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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.
Reporters of Radio Racyja, Henadz Barbarych and Aliaksandr Yarashevich, spent three days of administrative arrest after they had been detained in Minsk on 26 April.
The independent journalists covered an annual street action of the Belarusian opposition, The Chernobyl Way, that commemorates the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
The journalists were detained by plain-clothed police officers on Friday evening on their way to editorial office. The police claimed the journalists “behaved in a suspicious way” and allegedly forcibly resisted detention. Barbarych and Yarashevich spent the weekend in a detention centre and stood an administrative trial on Monday. Judge Kiryl Paluleh sentenced them to three days of arrest each for “unlawful resistance to legitimate claims of police officers”, despite the fact accusations against the reporters were only based on contradictory evidence from the police.
The journalists denied the charges, saying the plain-clothed officers failed to present valid police IDs and they did not resist their detention.
Both reporters were released on Monday evening.
“I think the reason for our detention were pictures we made. Our cameras were confiscated, and given back to us with all the photos deleted,” Henadz Barbarych told Radio Liberty.
Detentions and physical violence of the police against journalists during street rallies have become quite common in Belarus.
Several civil activists were also detained on 26 April. Short-term detentions were aimed at preventing activists of a Belarusian ecological and anti-nuclear movement from participating in the rally. Three more activists were detained after The Chernobyl Way; one of them, Ihar Truhanovich, was beaten by the police. Iryna Arahouskaya and Aksana Rudovich, journalists of the Nasha Niva newspaper, who were filming the beating of Truhanovich, were also detained for about an hour, but later released.
“The authorities of Belarus keep demonstrating its brutality. They act with impunity for citizens of Belarus to keep living in fear. Such illogical and unnecessary violence serves as a signal to the society that even if the government sanctions events, they don’t endorse them, and people should be afraid to participate in any oppositional street actions,” says Uladzimir Matskevich, the Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Belarus National Civil Society Platform.