According to reports from Minsk, around 20 journalists were arrested and a similar number were the victims of police violence during the demonstrations that followed yesterday's announcement of President Alexander Lukashenko's reelection victory.
The protesters and journalists arrested yesterday are being tried today. Ilya Kuzniatsu of ARD, for example, was sentenced today to 15 days in prison on a charge of "participating in an illegal demonstration."
Reporters Without Borders voices its support for the statement released by its partner organization, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), condemning the police brutality against journalists. The two organizations also condemn the fact that the police did not distinguish between journalists and protesters, thereby deliberately obstructing the work of the media. Many of the journalists were properly accredited by the local authorities.
We urge the authorities to publicly condemn the use of violence and to identify and punish those responsible. We finally also deplore the official media's one-sided coverage of the events of the past few days, which has prevented the public from having an informed view of this key moment in Belarus' political life.
According to the information gathered by the BAJ, at least 20 journalists were arrested yesterday and a similar number were roughed up by police. The victims included foreign reporters (Ukrainian, Russian and German) and local reporters working for both Belarusian and foreign media such as Agence France-Presse and the New York Times.
Several journalists covering the protests in the centre of Minsk were attacked by special forces at about 7 p.m. yesterday as they were some 50 metres from opposition candidate Uladzimir Niakliaeu's headquarters and were heading towards Kastrychnitskaya Square. After throwing flash-bang grenades, the police forced the journalists to lie face-down in the snow. New York Times photographer James Hill was hit when he tried to show his press card. The police also seized equipment and deleted photos and recordings.
Shortly after midnight, Novaya Gazeta reporter Irina Kahlip was hit by police as she was being interviewed live by the independent Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy.
Several BAJ members were arrested along with Niakliayeu supporters during a raid on Niakliayeu's headquarters. Others (including Aliaksandr Fiaduta, Julia Rymasheuskaya and Sergey Vozniak) were arrested at their homes. Some were released a few hours later but the location of several others, including Vozniak, is currently unknown.
Mobile telephone communications became extremely difficult at around 8 p.m. yesterday while many independent and opposition websites were rendered inaccessible as a result of Distributed Denial of Service attacks. Site visitors were also redirected to "counterfeit" pseudo-sites containing false information.
Anyone searching for such leading websites as Charter97.org, Belaruspartisan and Gazetaby, or the site of the newspaper Nasha Niva was directed to a counterfeit site with a similar address but ending in the suffix .in. The very popular blog platform Live Journal did not work very well yesterday either.
Special forces raided the Charter 97 office in the early hours of this morning and several of its members were taken to KGB headquarters. Charter 97 editor Natalia Radzina meanwhile sustained a head injury at the hands of the police during a street protest and is reportedly still detained. The website is still inaccessible today.