Dozens of journalists gathered Wednesday outside a police station in the capital of Belarus to protest the detention of colleagues covering a demonstration against the nations authoritarian president and an election the opposition sees as rigged.
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Police detained several journalists from Belarusian news outlets Tuesday on charges of taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration. They could receive fines or jail sentences of up to 15 days, if charged and convicted.
“We are witnessing the lawless action of law enforcement agencies, which are muzzling journalists without bothering about methods,” Olga Loiko, a journalist with Belarus popular online news outlet tut.by.
On Wednesday, police detained her colleague Vadim Zamirovsky, a photographer with tut.by. He told The Associated Press that he was released after police officers threw him into a van, beat him up and checked his ID and press card.
As it tries to quell weeks of anti-government protests prompted by official results that gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term with 80% of the vote, his government also has revoked the accreditation of many Belarusian journalists and deported some foreign journalists.
Two Moscow-based Associated Press journalists who were covering the protests were deported to Russia on Saturday. In addition, the APs Belarusian journalists were told by the government that their press credentials had been revoked.
American and European Union officials have strongly condemned the targeting of media in Belarus.
During Tuesdays protest, hundreds of students marched across the city, chanting for Lukashenko to “Go away!” as they continued a fourth straight week of mass post-election protests.
The Interior Ministry said 128 people were detained across the country Tuesday for taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations, including 95 in the capital, Minsk. It said Wednesday that 39 of the detainees remained in custody pending court hearings.
More than 100 students of the Minsk State Linguistics University formed a human chain to protest Tuesdays detentions of students and professors. By Wednesday evening, similar human chains popped up all over Minsk, with hundreds of people joining in to express solidarity with detained protesters.
Viasna human rights center said police detained 17 participants in Wednesdays protest.
Lukashenko, who has run the ex-Soviet nation of 9.5 million with an iron fist for 26 years, has dismissed protesters as Western puppets.
During the first few days of post-election protests, police detained nearly 7,000 people and beat hundreds, drawing international outrage. The government has since avoided large-scale violence and sought to end the protests with threats, selective detention of protesters and prosecution of activists.
The United States and the European Union have criticized the Aug. 9 presidential election as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to engage in a dialogue with the opposition. Lukashenko has dismissed the Wests input.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the US and its European partners “are together previewing significant targeted sanctions on anyone involved in human rights abuses and oppression”.
“The Belarusians deserve the right to choose their own leaders through a truly free and fair election under independent observation,” Pompeo told reporters in Washington. “We demand an immediate end to the violence against them and the release of all who are unjustly detained.”
Belarusian prosecutors have opened a criminal probe of the Coordination Council that opposition activists set up after the election to try to negotiate a transition of power. Last week, two of its members were given 10-day jail sentences on charges of staging unsanctioned protests, and several others were Read More – Source