After being arrested during this week’s protests in Minsk, Belarus, two election monitors from the Open Russia group, Artyom Vazhenkov and Igor Rogov, are now suspects in a criminal rioting case, reports the Belarusian state news agency BelTA, citing the country’s Investigative Committee.
According to BelTA, Vazhenkov and Rogov were arrested at 2:00 a.m. local time on August 11, near the Riga Shopping Center in Minsk (demonstrations took place at this location throughout the night of August 10–11; protesters even set up barricades to fend off riot police). Belarusian state investigators claimed that the two men “showed signs of intoxication.”
The Russian rights group Human Rights Postcards reported that Rogov was released on the evening of August 11, and has already returned to Russia. Vazhenkov, on the other hand, is still in custody in Belarus, the organization says.
The Russian Embassy in Minsk told RBK that they have yet to receive any information about the criminal case.
“I’m sure that [Rogov and Vazhenkov] didn’t commit any illegal actions. They were simply there as observers,” Open Russia’s acting director, Andrey Pivovarov, told Interfax. “All they did was broadcast their observations on social networks.”
On August 11, BelTA released a video of a group of “arrested instigators.” According to Open Media, Open Russia coordinators Artyom Vazhenkov and Igor Rogov were among the detainees. They had gone to Belarus to monitor the recent presidential elections, after which they disappeared. In the video, Vazehnkov and Rogov said that they came to Minsk on vacation.
Belarus has seen ongoing opposition demonstrations against the official results of the presidential elections since the end of the vote on August 9. In response, riot police have been violently dispersing and arresting protesters. Approximately 5,000 people were arrested during the first two days of demonstrations and more than 100 were injured. Officials have also launched more than 20 criminal cases for alleged rioting, hooliganism, and violence against police officers.