There have been 90 cases of persecution of media workers over the past two weeks in Belarus; the sad record includes the significant number of Belsat journalists who found themselves in the crosshairs.
Every third case of repressing journalists that has been recorded during post-election protests is that of a Belsat contributor. Out of 90 cases documented by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), 35 were targeted at journalists of the only independent Belarusian-language TV channel broadcasting from Warsaw. Thus, our TV station took the leading place in the ranking that hardly does credit to the Belarusian authorities.
Detention turns out to be the repressive measure which has been most frequently taken against media workers in recent days; when detaining journalists, the police often resorted to violence. BAJ also reports rubber bullet injuries, destruction of equipment and seizure of devices. Charges were brought against 28 people; some trials have not yet been held, and in other cases, journalists got fines or jail terms (up to 15 days). Several foreign media workers were deported from Belarus.
Hrodna resident Yan Roman was the worst-hit person among the Belsat contributors who got into the police’s hands; OMON riot policemen knocked his four teeth out, broke his nose and some facial bones. Another victim of police abuse, our Minsk-based reporter Alena Dubovik, spent three days in the notorious detention centre in Akrestsin street, where she was repeatedly beaten and kicked by a female prison guard. Soon after the release, she was taken to hospital due to severe abdominal pain.
International organisations advocating for human rights and freedom of speech have stood up for the mass media workers persecuted in Belarus.
“Journalists in Belarus are doing heroic work to ensure the world knows about the authorities’ brutal repression of protests. It is horrifying to see the lengths to which the government will go to suppress this information – attacking reporters with batons and rubber bullets, destroying their equipment, and throwing dozens in jail,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, stated on August, 12.
On its website, Amnesty International stressed that foreign journalists were also targeted, mentioning the attack on a TV crew from the BBC Russian Service, all of whom were wearing identification vests and bearing official accreditation cards.
“On August 11, several men in unmarked black uniforms who appeared to be security forces demanded to see the journalists’ accreditation. One man tore the card from a correspondent’s neck, snatched the camera from her and tried to break it. The men then beat another BBC journalist and struck several blows to his camera. In this case, the journalists were not detained,” the representatives of the human rights watchdog said.
#Belsat crew addressing #Belarusians: “We are the same as you. We are among you. Authorities frighten and threaten us as well. We hear your grieving cries.” Watch the video about our work amid #BelarusProtest @Belsat_TV #Belarus #BelarusSolidarity pic.twitter.com/lGUmJjdMqc
— Belsat in English (@Belsat_Eng) August 19, 2020
Expressing their solidarity with repressed colleagues, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) urged the Belarusian courts to dismiss administrative and criminal cases against media workers. The Association of Polish Journalists (SDP) is also calling for respecting freedom of speech in Belarus.
“The Association of Polish Journalists reminds that providing information is the task of journalists. In view of this, journalists must be able to report on the current events and be present at the places where these events happen in order to get information, photos and recordings. Journalists are supposed to do so and have the right to do so,” the statement reads.
Protesting against state propaganda and persecuting colleagues, well-known journalists and news presenters have started to leave jobs at the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company (commonly BT, Belarusian TV); some of the employees were fired on the back of their participating in opposition rallies.
In the 2020 Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, Belarus ranks 153 out of 180 countries. Now it is between the Sultanate of Brunei and Turkey and four positions below the Russian Federation. Is should be noted that the latest version of the Index was issued before the dramatic events of August, 2020.
The list of incidents which BAJ regards as violations of journalists’ rights, committed by representatives of the authorities is here (in English)