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More Belarusian Journalists Detained As Media Crackdown Widens


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

MINSK -- Two more journalists have been detained in Belarus on suspicion of obtaining information illegally from the state-run news agency, BelTA, amid what appears to be a widening crackdown on independent media.

The Investigative Committee of Belarus said on August 9 that the chief editor of the independent BelaPAN information agency, Iryna Leushyna was detained "in the criminal case on unsanctioned access to computer information."

Earlier on August 8, the Investigative Committee said that a local correspondent of Germany's Deutsche Welle international broadcaster, Paulyuk Bykouski, and an editor of Belarusians and the Market website, Alyaksey Zhukau had been detained in the same case.

Bykouski's wife, Volha Bykouskaya, told RFE/RL that her husband was detained by the Investigative Committee's officers after they confiscated all his computers and credit cards.

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

Deutsche Welle reported on August 8 that it lodged a protest with the Belarusian ambassador in Berlin, Dzyanis Sidarenka, and demanded Bykouski's immediate release. The broadcaster stressed that the rule of law must apply to accredited journalists.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission Chair Senator Roger Wicker, in a statement on August 9, condemned the journalists' detainment, calling on Belarusian authorities to immediately release them.

"...[Belarusian] President [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka’s deliberate targeting of independent news outlets is an affront to the rights of the whole population. The Belarusian authorities should release the journalists they have detained and cease harassing those who dedicate their lives to uncovering and sharing the truth," Wicker's statement said.

'An Attempt To Intimidate'

Earlier on August 8, Uladzislau Kuletski, chief editor of the website, which offers free classified advertising to those interested in renting or purchasing real estate property, and three of the site's journalists, Ihar Khmara, Maryya Saroka, and Alena Maslouskaya were detained for questioning by the Investigative Committee after police confiscated their computers.

Colleagues of the four journalists told RFE/RL that Kuletski and his reporters were told that they will be questioned regarding the BelTA case.

"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 offering 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.

The Council of Europe human rights body expressed "great concern" on August 7 over the raid and detentions, while Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged Belarusian authorities to stop the "harassment of critical journalists."

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