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RFE/RL Correspondents Detained In Minsk, Expelled From Belarus


One of the expulsion stamps issued by Belarusian authorities against the journalists.
One of the expulsion stamps issued by Belarusian authorities against the journalists.

Two Moscow correspondents for RFE/RL's Russian Service have been expelled from Belarus after being detained by police in Minsk on August 21.

The reporters, Yulia Vishnevetskaya and Andrei Kiselev, were taken to Smolensk, in western Russia, and told they were banned from entering Belarus for five years.

RFE/RL was not immediately provided with any explanation for the expulsions, which it described as part of "a siege aimed at silencing our coverage."

They come with embattled President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime cracking down on political opponents, activists, and media amid unprecedented street protests against his declaration of victory following the country's August 9 presidential election.

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Vishnevetskaya and Kiselev are employed by RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and work on the organization's Russian-language documentary series Signs Of Life.

Both were initially held at an Interior Ministry office in the Belarusian capital for several hours on August 21 after being asked for their documents at the Minsk Tractor Works where many workers have rallied against Lukashenka.

Before their departure for Minsk, RFE/RL had requested official permission from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to accredit its employees to work in the country.

"Authorities in Minsk have steadfastly ignored accreditation requests by dozens of Russian, Ukrainian, and other foreign journalists seeking to travel to Belarus to cover these critically important events," RFE/RL said in a statement. "It's a tactic that has provided authorities a cynical pretext for arresting and deporting any journalists who take the risk of traveling to Belarus without legal protection."

At least six RFE/RL or Current Time journalists have been expelled or deported recently by Belarusian authorities.

The situation has forced the U.S. broadcaster "to curtail any further attempts to enter the country" to report on events there, RFE/RL said.

The Minsk tractor factory has become one of many hubs of fierce opposition to Lukashenka's quarter-century of rule since a large group of its workers first marched on the city center earlier this month to openly call for the president's exit as security forces' brutal suppression of dissent increased.

Dozens of other journalists have been detained or harassed during the election campaign and ensuing protests, including other RFE/RL staff.

Belarusian authorities on August 21 restricted access to RFE/RL’s Belarus Service and dozens of other news and information websites in an apparent bid to control information as the protests continue.

The Ministry of Information's order blocking and 72 other websites and proxy VPN services came as massive protests were expected to continue over the weekend despite a crackdown and a series of threats from authorities against the opposition.

The outpouring of protest by hundreds of thousands of Belarusians in the past two weeks represents the greatest challenge so far to Lukashenka's 26-year rule, which has been marked by rigged elections and reliance on a massive security network to jail and otherwise thwart political opponents.

Exiled opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya said on August 21 that she had filed an official complaint against the results of the August 9 election, saying her compatriots "will never accept" the continued leadership of Lukashenka.

"It should be clear to the president that there is a need for change. I hope that good sense prevails and the people will be heard and there will be new elections," Tsikhanouskaya said on August 21 at her first press conference since fleeing to Lithuania last week.

Tsikhanouskaya, who left Belarus for Lithuania after the election amid reports that she and her family were threatened by authorities, told reporters in Vilnius that she plans to return home "when I feel safe there."

The European Union, the United States, and others have challenged the fairness of the vote and condemned the Belarusian authorities' violent crackdown.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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