June 10, 2020, 18:43 2 men approach a car parked in a narrow street near Hrodna city centre, in western Belarus. Behind them, 8 young men follow.
The men surround the car shouting “Police!”, as they take the hands of both men and load them into a grey unmarked van that has actually simply pulled over.
Dzmitry Mitskevich. ‘We were jailed minutes after recording the collection of pro-Lukashenko signatures. We didn’t turn off the equipment and our colleagues in Minsk and Warsaw were able to witness our arrest live on their screens’.
In a number of seconds, the bus is driving fast along the streets of the Hrodna – as soon as a preferred city of Stefan Batory, the well known 16 th century Polish-Lithuanian king.
This looks like a kidnapping scene from a motion picture about Mexican drug cartels. It isn’t.
Among the 2 people pushed into the grey Russian Gazel bus is myself, Dzmitry Mitskevich, a reporter of Belsat TELEVISION – which is prohibited by the program of Alexander Lukashenko. The other male is my cameraman.
Minutes prior to our detention on 10 June, we had actually completed recording from the centre of Hrodna where state organisations had actually been gathering signatures for Lukashenko. He is running for his 6th governmental term in the upcoming election on August 9.
Luckily, we didn’t switch off the equipment and our colleagues in Minsk and Warsaw had the ability to witness our arrest live on their screens.
We were apprehended by the unique cops forces – OMON, as they call themselves, according to Soviet custom. The cops in Belarus are still called “militia”, as in the former USSR.
The Soviet militia was at first a non-professional organisation for police. The term “militia” sounds proper for Belarusian strongmen in civilian clothing who are assaulting people in the streets.
Minutes later on on June 10, the van comes to Hrodna Leninski district police headquarters where we hear that we’re charged with breaking Post 22.9 of the Belarusian Administrative Code.
The post forbids producing material for media not signed up and recognized in Belarus. As the Belarusian foreign ministry has actually declined to release a single accreditation to Belsat press reporters, we are constantly dealing with the danger of breaking the law.
At the police headquarters, we are required to turn over all of our ownerships, consisting of phones, watches and jewellery. Whatever is noted on the “detention protocol”.
The law enforcement officer treated us rather nicely and even proposed to take my temperature level to look for Covid-19 This is not their typical behaviour. I have actually heard reports from my colleagues who underwent poundings and intimidation at police headquarters.
On June 20, for example, the cops in Hantsavichy, Brest area, completely apprehended reporters of the Hancavicki čas paper, beating and implicating them of “insubordination to the police officer”.
3 hours later on, when we are lastly launched, our things are restored to us, other than the video equipment and phones– these things will be taken “for experts” to inspect whether we utilized them to break the law. This is a brand-new practice by the authorities– they did not typically take equipment previously.
The detention procedure is composed by the OMON and regional law enforcement officer. Typically, among their main jobs handling either independent media or political opposition.
Fines are not great
On June 18, we were offered a fine of around $850[€750] According to the court, all the equipment other than our private mobile phones needed to be seized, due to the fact that they were “tools for committing offence”.
This is, nevertheless, versus the law, because the administrative code does not offer the confiscation of equipment as a penalty. Post 22.9 itself is a direct offense of the constitutional right to complimentary speech.
Procedures in such cases are typically made by the cops, who get orders from greater authorities as soon as a broadcast is aired on TELEVISION or online.
Laws restricting media flexibility are likewise typically utilized by regional authorities versus reporters who expose inadequacy and corruption in the provinces or towns of Belarus.
Belsat staff members who are based in the areas suffer the most, with regional authorities excited to utilize fines as a method of silencing independent media.
Nor do courts ever side with reporters– just 0.2 percent of all cases result in acquittal.
Repression set to increase
Belsat is not the only media outlet to experience pressure from the authorities. Belarusian blog writer and reporter Uladzimir Chudziantsou, for instance, was jailed and implicated of “drug trafficking” while crossing the Belarusian– Polish border on 21 November, 2019.
He was among the authors of the movie Lukashenko – Criminal Records, which information the Belarusian ruler’s rise to power in 1994, and his strongman grip on it since.
The movie ended up being very popular, getting more than 2.5 million views on YouTube alone. According to details from various sources, Lukashenko, who is very conscious criticism, took it as an individual insult.
Another circumstances of chilling pressure on the media occurred in2018 On 7 August that year, the cops got into the workplaces of the nation’s 2 most popular online news outlets, Tut.by and Belapan.by.
After browsing the workplaces, the law enforcement officer took equipment and apprehended reporters of both outlets, which are thought about independent however not significantly opposed to Lukashenko’s program.
The reporters of Tut.by and Belapan.by were implicated of unlawfully accessing details of the BelTA state-run news firm, leading to big arrests and fines.
Lastly, on 26 March 2020, the editor-in-chief of Ej.by, Siarhei Satsuk, was jailed for presumably accepting an allurement to release an investigative post.
Satsuk is well-known for his examinations exposing corruption amongst Belarusian authorities. He was launched on 4 April 2020, after the criminal case versus him was re-qualified as”fraud” The case is still continuous.
At the minute, the Belarusian authorities remain in their conventional pre-election hysteria, doing whatever they can to avoid people from getting involved and arranging in mass demonstrations.
As a result, repressions versus independent media will continue and end up being even harder. Arrests of more reporters will likely follow.
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