The Belarusian authorities arbitrarily detained at least 700 people in March 2017 in connection with peaceful protests, Human Rights Watch says in its recent report.
“The majority, including more than 100 journalists and 60 human rights activists, were detained in connection with peaceful protests marking Belarus’ annual Freedom Day on March 25. Police punched, kicked, clubbed, and otherwise abused many of the detainees. On March 27, courts in Minsk and other cities swiftly sentenced 177 people, including journalists and human rights activists, to fines or detention on fabricated misdemeanor charges,” the report reads.
Minsk riot police arresting protesters on Freedom Day (ENG subs)
“The authorities detained, beat, harassed, and issued official warnings to at least 107 journalists, both foreign and domestic, in the lead up to and during the Freedom Day protests. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, police beat seven journalists and in three cases damaged or destroyed their photo and video equipment. Eight journalists were sentenced to up to 15 days in detention on charges of participating in an unsanctioned gathering and hooliganism. One was fined and more are awaiting trial,” the authors stress.
There are stories of Belsat TV journalists and contributors in the report.
On March 26, police also detained journalists who covered the smaller demonstration on Oktyabrskaya Square, among them Belsat journalist Ales Zaleuski (Ales Zalevsky). Traffic police stopped the car from which Zaleuski and his cameraman were live-streaming the protest and ordered them out. Minutes later, riot police arrived, forced them into a police van and took them to the Maskouski district police station. <…> After three hours, Zaleuski and his cameraman were released without charge. Police also detained Zaleuski on March 24 and 25.
Katsyaryna Andreyeva (Catarina Andreeva) was arrested together with her assistant, her cameramen, and another local journalist on March 25. Andreyeva said that her cameraman, Alyaksandr Barazenka (Alexander Borozenko), was arrested at about 3 p.m. while filming the rally, but that she and her other colleagues managed to walk away. Andreyeva, her assistant, and the other journalist – who is her husband – then went to take photographs at Oktyabrskaya Square, where armored vehicles, water cannons, and other security vehicles were parked that day. Four masked men dressed in black and armed with batons immediately surrounded them. The insignia on their sleeves were covered up. Andreyeva said:
“They literally appeared out of nowhere. They didn’t say who they were, just started grabbing and pushing us. I screamed that I was a journalist and pulled out my press card. One of the men took the press card, rumpled it, threw it on the ground and said: “It’s fake.” Another man yelled: “Drag her! Drag her into the van!”
Andreyeva and her colleagues demanded to know if they were being detained, but the police did not respond. Andreyeva said she needed to use a bathroom and quickly walked into a nearby public building. Within minutes, two policemen followed her in, grabbed her by the arms and dragged her outside. A policeman wearing metal knee guards kneed Andreyeva in the stomach. While two policemen were dragging her outside, she saw another policeman grabbing her colleague by the neck from behind and pushing him on the ground face down. A few minutes later police released them, without explanation or apology.
Police charged the cameraman, Barazenka, with hooliganism, alleging that he was swearing and “waving his arms” in public. During the court hearing, which Andreyeva attended, Barazenka’s lawyer said that he could not have been waving his hands because he was holding a camera. The court found Barazenka guilty and sentenced him to 15 days in detention.
Authorities also pressured and harassed journalists in connection with anti-tax protests earlier in March. On March 17, a court in Homel fined Larysa Shchyrakova (Larisa Shchiryakova) 150 Belarusian rubles (approximately US$80) for participating in an unsanctioned protest, which she was covering as a journalist for Belsat. The next day, police stopped Shchyrakova on her way to another protest, in the city of Mozyr, 144 kilometers from Homel, and detained her for eight hours.
On the same day, plainclothes policemen came to Shchyrakova’s parents’ home when she was out and warned her parents that authorities would take her 10-year-old son away unless she stopped reporting on the protests. On March 26, an official from the Homel Municipal Department of Children’s Services asked Shchyrakova to meet with him. During their conversation, he told her that she spent “too much time” covering protests and “not enough time” looking after her son, and warned her that social services could take her son away.
“They are trying to pressure me in every possible way,” the woman said.
Belsat.eu, via Human Rights Watch