“We call for the immediate release of reporters detained in Belarus and for the urgent inclusion of these abuses in the international investigation begun by the United Nations in March, specifically, for the inclusion of acts of torture, violence, arrests, prosecutions and convictions of Belarusian journalists." - RSF
This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 19 May 2021.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the unacceptable acts of torture and inhuman mistreatment to which two Belarusian journalists say they were subjected during the past week in a prison in the eastern city of Mahilyow, and calls on the UN to include the persecution of journalists in the international investigation it launched in March.
Alyaksandr Burakou, a reporter for German public radio broadcaster Deutsche Welle, testified at his trial on 15 May that he was prevented from sleeping several nights in a row, that he was forced to strip naked in a corridor and that his cell was repeatedly searched. He also said prison staff had refused to give him parcels brought by his family.
Uladzimir Laptsevich, a reporter for the Belarusian news website 6tv.by, testified that he was also tortured while held pending trial and that he had suffered from a hypertensive crisis for which prison staff had to summon a doctor to his cell.
Arrested outside a Mahilyow court building on 12 May while trying to cover the trial of seven political prisoners, Burakou and Laptsevich were sentenced to 20 days in prison for “repeated participation in an unauthorised event” although no demonstration was taking place when they were arrested. Both journalists have begun a hunger strike in protest against their arbitrary arrest and mistreatment.
“By torturing and mistreating imprisoned journalists, President Alexander Lukashenko’s government is trying to scare and deter independent media from continuing to cover social and political developments in Belarus,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We call for the immediate release of reporters detained in Belarus and for the urgent inclusion of these abuses in the international investigation begun by the United Nations in March, specifically, for the inclusion of acts of torture, violence, arrests, prosecutions and convictions of Belarusian journalists who are clearly being targeted by the state apparatus.”
Ten Belarusian government opponents filed a lawsuit in Germany at the start of May about more than 100 cases of “state torture” in Belarus, including torture of journalists.
At least 16 journalists are currently detained in Belarus. They include Lyubou Kaspyarovich, a reporter for Tut.by, Belarus’s most popular independent news website (now under a serious threat of closure), who was arrested outside the lawcourts in the capital, Minsk, on 14 May while covering a trial of students. She has been sentenced to 15 days in prison on a charge of participating in an unauthorised protest.
Another Tut.by journalist, photographer Tatsyana Kapitonava, was arrested while covering a conference on coworking on 13 May and was sentenced to 10 days in detention on the same charge.
Andrei Fralou, a freelance cameraman who works for regional media outlets and Polish-language ones including TVP Polonia, was arrested in his car in the western region of Lida on 4 May and was sentenced three days later to a fine of 300 euros and 15 days in prison on charges of “illegal media production and dissemination” and “disobeying the police.”
RSF and its local partner, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), have logged nearly 430 arrests of journalists and 65 cases of serious physical violence against journalists since last August’s disputed presidential election. Ruled by Lukashenko since 1994, Belarus is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.