Whereabouts unknown More than 50 journalists have been arrested in Belarus this week
During the protests in Minsk on the night of August 10, Belarusian riot police beat up Meduza’s special correspondent Maxim Solopov. Afterwards, he went missing for more than 40 hours. During the day on August 11, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demanded that the Belarusian authorities free all Russian journalists in custody in Belarus. Maxim Solopov was freed later that evening. However, dozens of journalists are still under arrest — some newsrooms have been unable to reach their correspondents for several days. Meduza sums up the circumstances surrounding the mass arrests of journalists in Belarus.
In the last week (from August 4–11), at least 55 journalists have been arrested in Belarus, reports the Belarusian Journalists’ Association. Many of them were wounded by security officials, and the whereabouts of several of them remain unknown.
Meduza’s special correspondent Maxim Solopov was in Minsk covering the events surrounding the presidential elections, which ended on August 9. Our editors lost contact with him after 1:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, August 10.
After his own release from custody, Daily Storm correspondent Anton Starkov, who was also arrested while reporting from the Belarusian capital, explained that Solopov was arrested during a riot police operation aimed at dispersing protesters. According to Starkov, several riot police officers beat up Solopov before they took him into custody. Meduza issued a statement demanding that the Belarusian authorities help find Solopov. But even Belarusian officials were unable to locate him for nearly two whole days. Meduza published a detailed story about Solopov’s disappearance on August 10.
During the evening of August 11, Maxim Solopov was freed. He is now in the custody of Russian diplomats, and is headed for the Belarusian-Russian border so he can return to Russia. The details of his two days in custody in Belarus remain unknown as of yet.
On August 10, Znak.com journalist Nikita Telizhenko disappeared in Minsk — he was in Belarus covering the presidential elections and the subsequent mass protests. Telizhenko hasn’t been in touch for more than 24 hours — since 6:46 p.m. Minsk time that day. The last time they spoke to him, he said he was on Niemiha Street — where police officers were arresting protesters.
Until midnight on August 11 Telizhenko’s phone was turned off. Now, it’s turned on but no one is answering calls to his number. Znak.com’s editors think that Telizhenko was arrested for his coverage of the protests.
On the morning of August 11, Znak.com’s editors sent appeals to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Belarus, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s representative in Yekaterinburg, Alexander Kharlov, as well as the Sverdlovsk Region’s International and Foreign Economic Relations Minister, Vasily Kozlov. Telizhenko was freed later that evening.
Ilya Pitalev, a photojournalist for the Russian state-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya (not to be confused with Russia Today), also stopped communicating with his newsroom on the evening of August 10. On August 11, reports surfaced that he was in a pretrial detention center in Zhodino — a city 60 kilometers from Minsk. Later, citing the head of the Belarusian Interior Ministry’s migration department, Alexey Begun, TASS reported that Pitalev was set to be expelled from Belarus and banned from the country, for allegedly working without official accreditation. Begun specified that the decision to deport Pitalev was made after administrative charges were brought against him. While Sputnik (another Russian state-controlled news agency) speculated that the journalist would most likely be freed after facing trial on Wednesday, August 12, Pitalev was released from pretrial detention during the evening of August 11.
According to the independent media outlet Proekt, its news room has been unable to reach its freelance correspondent, Belarusian investigative journalist Stanislav Ivashkevich, since August 9. Several days ago, Proekt published Ivashkevich’s investigation about the role of women in the life of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka). Ivashkevich had already been arrested while working on the investigation, and after its release his team reported that they were under surveillance.
Plain-clothes officers arrested Ivashkevich during the evening on August 9 and reports later surfaced that he was being held in Minsk’s Isolation Center for Offenders. Ivashkevich was released during the evening on August 11.
Three correspondents from Belsat, a Warsaw-based independent television channel reporting on Belarus, were also arrested on August 10: Tatyana Belashova, Elena Shcherbinskaya, and Vitaly Dubik. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Belsat has also been unable to reach its Vitebsk correspondent Dmitry Kazakevich and channel operator Vladimir Lunev. While Kazakevich has been placed under arrest for 10 days on unspecified charges, Lunev’s whereabouts remain unknown.
The Belarusian human rights group “Vesna” reports that journalists Milan Kharitonov and Ales Levchuk were arrested in the city of Brest. Kharitonov and Levchuk work as freelancers for Belsat, covering events in Belarus’s border region. They have each been fined 3,500 euros (about $4,110) since 2019. The Belarusian authorities have been cracking down on freelance journalists increasingly actively since 2014: they often face administrative fines for so-called “violations of media legislation” — typically, for the alleged “illegal manufacturing and/or distribution of media products.”
The arrests of journalists working in Belarus are ongoing. On August 11, police officials arrested Egor Martinovich, the chief editor of the newspaper Nasha Niva. There has been no contact with him since he was driving home earlier today. The reason for his arrest remains unknown. In addition, Nasha Niva journalist Natalya Lubnevskaya was injured during the protests — she was hit in the leg and wounded by a rubber bullet. An ambulance took her to the hospital.
Translation by Eilish Hart