Belarusian independent journalists Dzmitry Halko and Aliaksandr Yarashevich were sentenced to ten and twelve days of detention, respectively, on Tuesday.
The pair were detained by police in Minsk on Monday evening when they were leaving a meeting with civic activists who had been released from detention. The activists had been detained for involvement in the Chernobyl Way rally on 26 April. Aliaksandr Yarashevich was also detained then, and served three days of arrest – only to receive another, harsher sentence on Tuesday.
The journalists were charged with noncompliance with orders of the police and petty hooliganism. Just like during the trial of 29 April, the sentences were based on contradictory testimonies of the police officers; one of them even admitted he re-wrote the detention protocols. The reporters denied the charges.
Independent journalists who arrived at the court to support their colleagues and report from the trials were not permitted to take photos or videos. The judges also barred audio recordings of the hearings.
While ratcheting up pressure on independent journalists, Belarusian authorities are signalling that they are eager for more dialogue with the European Union. It resembles the situation of 2008 and 2009, when the police interfered with the work of reporters in Belarus, despite the broadening of official contacts between Belarus and the EU and hints of liberalisation inside of the country.
As Index pointed out in its recent Belarus: Pulling the Plug policy paper, keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of the Belarusian regime’s policy of self-preservation. The recent events show the authorities of the country are not going to ease their grip on free media and independent journalists.