The Belarusian Association of Journalists strongly protests against the massive detentions of journalists and actions of law enforcement agencies concerning our colleagues.
On March 12, the police detained 18 journalists and bloggers who were covering mass events in Belarus.
Four of them – Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, Halina Abakunchyk, Siarhei Piatrukhin and Dzmitry Harbunou – spent a night in the detention center awaiting trial.
Police officers used different pretexts to interfere into journalistic work (to verify documents, incorrect parking, suspicion of car jack, disobedience to police’s demands, and violation of media legislation), however, the evident purpose was to prevent journalists from obtaining and disseminating information about the ongoing mass events. Since the detentions occurred in different cities (Orsha, Rahachou, Vitebsk, Brest) one can infer that the impediments to journalistic activities had been coordinated.
We used to notice that the number of detentions of journalists had decreased in Belarus. Unfortunately, the tendency was crossed on March 12, when in one day more journalists were detained than in the whole preceding year.
On March 13, two of the detained journalists – Halina Abakunchyk and Katsiaryna Bakhvalava – were held liable according to administrative law. We consider the court decisions in these cases as unlawful, ungrounded and to be overturned.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists reminds that a journalist has the right to attend mass events, any events of public significance, and distribute information from there. The law covers not only staff journalists, but all other persons involved in gathering, editing, preparing informational reports for mass media.
Holding a journalist liable for conscientious work is inadmissible.
We draw attention to the fact that violating journalists’ rights is not only an unlawful restriction of freedom of information, but also violates constitutional rights of all citizens to expressing their opinion, receiving and distributing information (art. 33, 34 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus).
We call on the state bodies with respective powers:
– To hold an immediate investigation of the massive violation of journalists’ rights which took place on March 12, 2017;
– To identify those responsible for the unlawful actions and to hold them liable;
– To take necessary measures to prevent violations of journalists’ rights in future;
– To protest against the court rulings on holding the journalists liable according to administrative law for that they had only implemented their professional duties.
The Board of BAJ
March 13, 2017