The international organisation condemns the arrests of at least six journalists on 26 April in Minsk while they were covering anti-nuclear marches that environmentalists and opposition activists organize each year on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Four of the journalists were released after their equipment and material was examined but two reporters for independent Radio Racyja – Henadz Barbarych and Aliaksandr Yarashevich –faced trial on a charge of refusing to comply with orders from the police.
“The media are once again the collateral victims of the Lukashenka regime’s zero tolerance for civil society and the opposition,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Radio Racyja journalists were doing their job by covering an event of general interest and the police had no reason to intervene”.
Barbarych and Yarashevich, who had their press cards with them, were arrested after they objected to police attempts to make them leave an anti-nuclear march in Minsk.
Aksana Rudovich and Iryna Arahouskaya of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva were arrested shortly thereafter by plainclothes policemen when they tried to film other plainclothes police officers using violence to arrest an anarchist demonstrator, Ihar Trukhanovich.
They were taken to a nearby police station, where their equipment and memory cards were given a detailed inspection, and they were then released without being charged. In all, about 15 individuals were briefly detained in connection with the protest. Plainclothes police prevented others from joining the march.
In a separate incident, independent journalists Aliaksandr Barazenka and Nastassia Yaumen were arrested in Astravets, in the western region of Hrodna, while covering an opposition march on the planned site of a new nuclear power station. After deleting the video they had filmed, the police released them three hours later.
Various opposition websites including Charter 97 and BelarusPartizan and the website of the human rights group Viasna were the targets of cyber-attacks before the demonstrations.
Belarus is ranked 157th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.