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Belarusian police officers during a raid on the BelaPAN news agency in Minsk on August 7.

MINSK -- More journalists have been detained for questioning in Belarus for allegedly obtaining information illegally from the state-run news agency, BelTA, amid what appears to be a widening crackdown on independent media.

Employees of the website, which offers deals for people interested in renting and purchasing property, told RFE/RL that the website's chief editor Uladzislau Kuletski, journalists Ihar Khmara, Maryya Saroka, and Alena Maslouskaya were detained for questioning by the Investigative Committee on August 8 after police confiscated their computers.

The four journalists were told that they will be questioned regarding the BelTA case.

A former reporter with the Selska Haspadarka magazine, Alyaksey Zhukau, was also detained on August 8 together with his wife Aryna Semychkina.

Journalist Volha Shastakova, a friend of the couple, told RFE/RL that they were detained in the village of Baraulyany near Minsk. The reason for their detention is unknown.

Also on August 8, police visited Paulyuk Bykouski a correspondent with the Deutsche Welle radio station in Minsk.

Bykouski told RFE/RL that the police informed him that their visit was linked to the BelTA case, but after Bykouski explained to them that he had not been using BelTA's information for years, police left.

The detentions mark the latest moves in a broad crackdown on media that report critically of strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government.

"This is an attempt to intimidate us all," Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich told RFE/RL. "There is a test: whether we exist as a society that is capable of making civil resistance."

On August 7, police detained five Belarusian journalists, all women, following searches at the offices of two independent news outlets, and BelaPAN.

Police said the journalists of the two outlets illegally obtained information from BelTA.

The reporters from the media outlets told RFE/RL on August 8 that Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Halina Ulasik, and Hanna Yermachonak of, and Tatsyana Karavyankova of BelaPAN were in custody.

Meanwhile, a duty officer at Minsk's main detention center on Akrestsin Street confirmed to RFE/RL shortly before midnight on August 7 that editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava was in jail there while the whereabouts of the others remain unknown.

The journalists' lawyers were not allowed to see their clients on August 7.

The Council of Europe human rights body on August 7 expressed "great concern" over the raid and detentions, which mark the latest moves in a broad crackdown on media that report critically of strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in an August 7 statement condemned the police raids and urged Belarusian authorities to stop the "harassment of critical journalists."

Bishkek's new mayor, Aziz Surakmatov speaking to reporters on August 8.

A new mayor of the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, has been elected by the city council amid protests.

Forty-three out of 44 city council members voted on August 8 for Aziz Surakmatov, the only candidate proposed by the ruling Social Democratic party.

Activists in Bishkek have been protesting for weeks against the fact that there were no other candidates to the post.

On August 8 after the city council voted for Surakmatov, dozens of civil rights activists protested in Bishkek, holding puppets stuck on sticks with labels of several political parties represented at the city council.

Many of the protesters were holding posters, saying "The mayor must be elected, not appointed," and "The City Council must be dismissed."

The protesters then threw the puppets into a trash bin.

On August 7, the Central Election Commission said that the activists' request to establish a direct election of the Mayor of Bishkek by the city's residents had been declined.

Activists also say that the election law requiring a candidate to pass the Kyrgyz language test was violated, stressing that 46-year-old Surakmatov, whose proficiency in Kyrgyz language has been under question, has not been tested.

Bishkek's former mayor, Albek Ibraimov, and former deputy mayor, Renat Makenov, were arrested last month of corruption charges.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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