MINSK -- Belarusian police have detained at least 11 journalists near the KGB security service building in the capital, Minsk, in the latest crackdown on the press ahead of the country’s upcoming presidential election.
The detentions on July 28 occurred as a representative of jailed presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka filed a petition with the KGB to change the terms of his arrest.
The representative, Maria Kolesnikova, was untouched by security forces, but several people were arrested outside the KGB building as they sought to file similar petitions to release Babaryka on his own recognizance.
According to Barys Haretski, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, 11 journalists were also detained while covering the event.
All but three were later released, he said on Facebook.
Among those detained were a journalist from Tut.by, four journalists from Belsat TV, two reporters from BelaPAN, a photojournalist from Russia’s TASS news agency, and Reuters journalists.
The Tut.by news website reported that security forces took the journalists to the Zavodskoye district Department of Internal Affairs to check their media accreditation.
The latest detentions have come just days after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attacked both Russian and Western media outlets for their coverage of developments in Belarus.
He also called for those promoting “mass disturbances” to be expelled from the country because they "don't observe our country's laws."
Lukashenka faces mounting public pressure after 26 years in power and an energized opposition ahead of the August 9 presidential election in which he is seeking a sixth presidential term.
Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been detained or arrested as the government cracks down hard on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates, who were not registered by election officials.
On July 14 and 15, at least 17 journalists were detained while covering protests against the electoral body's decision to deny opposition presidential candidates Valery Tsapkala and Babaryka the ability to register in the upcoming election, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In June, Belarusian authorities detained at least 14 journalists for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests, and in May, five journalists covering opposition candidates were detained.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has emerged as the opposition's main candidate against strongman Lukashenka.
She became a presidential candidate because her jailed husband, well-known vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, was incarcerated after he openly expressed his intention to run for president.
Tsikhanouskaya is campaigning with the representatives of two opposition candidates who were denied registration as presidential candidates -- former Belgazprombank head Babaryka and prominent businessman Tsapkala.
Babaryka, who was viewed as a potentially potent rival to Lukashenka, was jailed in June on suspicion of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion. He rejected the charges as politically motivated.