September 30, 2020

Press Freedom

Belarus

Press Freedom Update Aug. 14: Belarus

Protesters and riot police clash during a protest against Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s claim of a landslide victory on Aug. 9. Photo: Misha Friedman/Getty Images

This week’s OPC Press Freedom update looks at Belarus in the wake of mass protests following the controversial Aug. 9 presidential election:

Reporters Without Borders

2019 World Press Freedom Index: Belarus ranks 153rd among 180 countries

Freedom House

2019 Global Freedom Report: Belarus scores 19 out of 100; Rating – Not Free

The Committee to Protect Journalists

Most Censored Countries List: Belarus ranks No. 9

Press freedom organizations have condemned the arrests and violence against journalists following the Aug. 9 presidential election in Belarus. It is characterized as a dark day for freedom of the press as numerous reporters were arrested, detained, and, in some cases, severely beaten while covering the controversial election.

Belarus protesters took to the streets in dozens of cities across the country after early returns showed President Alexander Lukashenko – a five-term incumbent – with 80% of the vote, though exit polls from other sources indicated that opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya was getting 70% of the vote, triggering accusations of voter fraud.

Authorities say 6,700 people have been arrested and one death was reported in the aftermath of the protests. Amnesty International says some detainees were tortured.

Tsikhanouskaya fled the country for Lithuania. Her campaign aides she made the decision under duress from state authorities.

Numerous reporters have been subject to assault or detention while covering protests in Minsk and other cities.

Five home-based journalists from Belarus were arrested and detained, which prevented them from covering the reaction to the election.

Reporters Olga Kamianyagina and Angelika Vasilevskaya (Tut.by), Irina Slavnikova (Belsat TV) and Belsat journalist Ekaterina Tkachenko were all arrested and later released by police authorities, according to RSF.

Three Russian journalists from TV network Dozhd — Vladimir Romenski, Vasili Polonski and Nikolai Antipov – were arrested by undercover police in Minsky and held for the better part of a day before bringing suddenly deported back to Russia that night.

But several reporters were severely beaten and taken to the hospital with injuries, including AP photographer Mstyslav Chernov.

Meduza correspondent Max Solopov was also beaten as he covered the protests in Minsk. He was later released.  Russian Daily Storm reporters Anton Starkov and Dmitri Lasenko were clubbed and beaten upon their arrest, though later released. Sputnik reporter Eugene Oleynik was arrested, beaten and detained before being releasing, following his coverage of police activity during the Minsk protests.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington intends to work with the European Union to help resolve the crisis in Belarus. He pledged U.S. support to help deliver freedom to Belarus.

“We will continue to speak about the risks to the Belarusian people,” Pompeo said at a speech in Prague. “We want them to have freedom in the same way that people do across the world.”