The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, said today that she was deeply concerned by the detentions and arrests of administrators of political social media groups in Belarus, which she described as a crackdown on online dissent.
“I have repeatedly called on Belarusian authorities to stop persecuting journalists and bloggers. Unfortunately, recent detentions and searches in Minsk and elsewhere in the country show continued efforts to muzzle dissenting voices and clamp down on freedom of expression online,” Mijatović said.
Law enforcement officers in Minsk and Vitsebsk detained the administrators of opposition groups using the Russian vkontakte.ru social media network. Among them were Pavel Yeutsikhiyeu, Andrey Tkachou, Raman Pratasevich and Aleh Shramuk. Investigators also searched the apartment of Siarhei Biaspalau, confiscating his computer.
The Kastrychnitsky district court in Minsk sentenced Yeutikhiyeu and Tkachou to five and seven days in jail, respectively, on petty hooliganism charges.
Pratasevich, a minor, was released after four hours. He says KGB investigators physically abused him in a bid to obtain the password of the group he administers. Shramuk was also released after an interrogation.
“The Belarusian authorities are using such charges to control the media and Internet communities. The detentions are a strike against freedom of expression and contravene OSCE commitments which Belarus has pledged to uphold,” Mijatović said.