Supporters of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seize an opposition supporter at an opposition rally in Brest on March 11 (epa)
March 13, 2006 -- Police in Belarus have detained some 20 people at a rally addressed by Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate in presidential elections to be held on March 19.
Those arrested at the March 12 rally in Minsk could face up to 15 days in prison if found guilty.
They were charged with staging an illegal gathering.
Several Ukrainian nationals were also detained briefly, including a television reporter whose live broadcast was interrupted by the police action.
Authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is running for a third term. Opposition groups, human rights advocates, the European Union, and the United States have all said they expect the election to be neither free nor fair.
Hanna Horozhenko in a Channel 5 publicity photo
HANNA HOROZHENKO is a reporter for the Kyiv-based Channel 5, which played a crucial role in breaking the information blockade in the Ukrainian state run media during the Orange Revolution protests in Ukraine in November-December 2004.
Although Horozhenko was accredited by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to cover the presidential election campaign in Belarus, she was arrested in Minsk on March 12, immediately after a meeting with some 2,000 voters held by united opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich. The arrest came as she was reporting live by the telephone to Kyiv.
Listen to the audio of Horozhenko's report and arrest, provided by Channel 5 (about three minutes):
Horozhenko was detained together with a Channel 5 camera operator and a group of Ukrainian students who came to Minsk from Ukraine to show their support to the Belarusian opposition. Police released her several hours later, following the intervention of the Ukrainian Embassy in Minsk.
"The actions of the OMON [riot police] -- that was really something," Horozhenko told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service after her release. "I have never heard such words addressed to a human being, I have never seen such boorishness. I was shocked."
Belarusian police routinely arrest a dozen opposition activists after every opposition gathering in order to reduce the possibility of post-election protests against the official election results, which are expected to be heavily in Lukashenka's favor.
See also these RFE/RL stories on the media in Belarus:
Independent Newspaper Struggles Against State Interference
EU-Funded Media Broadcasts To Start Before March Elections
Authorities 'Cleanse' Media Ahead Of 2006 Vote
Click on the image to view a dedicated page with news, analysis, and background information about the Belarusian presidential ballot.
Click on the image to view RFE/RL's coverage of the election campaign in Belarusian and to listen to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service.