Belarusian authorities have deported three correspondents from Current Time ahead of a crucial presidential election in the country.
The three reporters -- Iryna Romaliyskaya, Yury Baranyuk, and Ivan Hrebenyuk -- have also been banned from entering Belarus for 10 years.
The journalists were detained August 7 at a hotel in the capital, Minsk, and taken to a nearby police station. It was not immediately clear why they were detained.
The journalists, who are now in Ukraine, said that they were interrogated at the Minsk police station about their activities in Belarus.
“As far as I understood, the reason [for the detention and subsequent deportation] was yesterday’s broadcast of Current Time,” Romaliyskaya wrote on Facebook, referring to Current Time’s live coverage of a Minsk gathering by supporters of opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Belarus Votes For President
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Current Time, a Russian-language TV network led by RFE/RL with cooperation from VOA, had applied for accreditation for the reporters weeks prior to traveling to the country.
But the Belarusian Foreign Ministry had not responded to their applications.
Romaliyskaya and Hrebenyuk are citizens of Ukraine, while Baranyuk is a Russian citizen.
"Our Current Time journalists were detained in the course of professionally carrying out their work covering the Belarusian presidential election," Daisy Sindelar, RFE/RL's acting president, said in a statement.
"The failure by Belarusian authorities to grant credentials is yet another example of their contempt for the rights of a free press and the right of Belarusians to uncensored information," she said. "We are outraged by their detention and demand respect for the internationally recognized rights of journalists to do their work."
Aside from Current Time, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service has accredited reporters in the country as part of RFE/RL’s coverage of the election.
The August 9 election is shaping up to be among the biggest challenges to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s 26-year rule.
Opposition candidates, including Tsikhanouskaya, have mustered sizable rallies in cities and towns across the country.
Thousands gathered in a Minsk park on August 6 in support of Tsikhanouskaya, with demonstrators later marching through the city’s streets clapping and chanting "Long live Belarus!" and "Go away!”
The latter chant was an apparent reference to Lukashenka.
Authorities have detained several members of Tsikhanouskaya's campaign team as well as supporters, accusing them of holding unsanctioned rallies.
Two sound engineers, who played a Soviet-era rock song that was popular around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 at a rally, were detained August 7 by police and charged with minor hooliganism and disobeying police.
They were sentenced to 10 days in jail.