MINSK -- Six Belarusian journalists detained earlier this week while covering an anti-government protest in Minsk were sentenced to three days in jail, as authorities continued their crackdown on dissent and media freedom following a disputed election that gave President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth-straight term.
The verdicts came just ahead of a scheduled address by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the self-exiled presidential candidate who has become a leader of the Belarusian opposition, to the UN Security Council later on September 4.
The journalists were covering a student rally demanding the resignation of Lukashenka on September 1 when they were detained by police near the Dinamo district stadium.
A district court in the capital sentenced the journalists to three days' administrative arrest after finding them guilty of participating in an illegal rally, an accusation they denied.
They were later released having already served their terms while in pretrial detention.
The reporters work for the Belarusian independent news website Tut.by; the local Komosomolskaya pravda v Belarusi daily; and the independent news agency BelaPAN.
Hundreds of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets across Belarus to protest the "rigged" results of the August 9 vote.
The protesters are calling on the 66-year-old Belarusian leader to step down after 26 years in power, release all political prisoners, and hold free and fair elections.
The authorities have tried to halt the protest movement with threats and the prosecution of protesters, political activists, and journalists covering the demonstrations.
On September 4, police detained several student protesters gathered inside the Minsk State Linguistic Institute. A witness said the students started singing the French national anthem La Marseillaise, which contains words about the fight against tyranny, when riot police entered the building and dragged the students away.
Officials at the institute had warned students it would call in the police unless they halted their protests.
Those detained were later released from police custody after reportedly being charged with taking part in illegal rallies.
The Interior Ministry earlier said that a total of 26 people were detained during protests in Minsk on September 3 for violating the law on public events, adding that seven of them will remain in pretrial detention.
A photographer working for the news outlet Tut.by., Zmitser Brushko, was detained for a few hours and charged with petty hooliganism for allegedly pushing a police officer.
The crackdown on protests, strikes, and the media has drawn condemnation from human rights groups, media freedom watchdogs, and the international community.
On September 3, Britain and Canada said in a joint statement to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that they were "extremely concerned" by the treatment of journalists and independent media in Belarus.
The statement cited "numerous credible reports" of the "excessive use of violence" by Belarusian authorities against journalists, as well as peaceful protesters, and human rights defenders, and political opponents since the disputed presidential vote.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
"Though the strain faced by independent media has been made evident before, during, and after the presidential elections, in the past week Belarusian authorities have made greater moves to hinder the free press," the statement said, adding that more than 70 independent news websites had been blocked.
About 50 journalists were detained on August 27-28 for accreditation checks and some foreign reporters were subsequently deported and banned from Belarus for five years, it also noted.
At least 17 journalists, including four from RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, had their accreditations revoked.