Outrage as Belarus arrests authors, publishers and journalists in crackdown

Human rights groups call for release of men arrested by security forces at Minsk literature festival, and others held as protests rock authoritarian state

Human rights organisations have called on Belarusian authorities to drop all charges immediately against writers, publishers and journalists who have been arrested following a wave of nationwide protests.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said security forces had detained or otherwise obstructed at least 32 people in recent weeks. It was joined by Pen America in protesting against the arrests.

The detainees include the writer and historian Vladimir Orlov, as well as the Belarusian publisher Miraslau Lazouski and bookseller Ales Jaudaha, who were arrested by six masked officers at the entrance of a literature festival in Minsk. Lazouski is a “survival instructor” who has been a publisher for five or six years. He has been previously linked to the nationalist White Legion group.

Nina Shidlovskaya, Lazouski’s wife, told the Guardian that police later brought him home, bloody and beaten, carried out a search, then took him away again. She said the men could be held for three days without charge.

Shidlovskaya said she believed the arrests were part of a crackdown by Belarus authorities ahead of nationwide Freedom Day celebrations next Saturday, 25 March, which is a focus for dissent.

Belarusians have demonstrated since early February against the imposition of a tax equivalent to £200 on Belarusians who have been unemployed for more than six months and who have not sought work at government job centres. The campaign has been run under the slogan, “We are not parasites,” a reference to President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s 2015 introduction of the tax to fight “social parasitism”.

Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.
Unpopular tax … Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko. Photograph: Yekaterina Shtukina/AP

The CPJ said security forces in the southwestern Belarusian city of Pinsk had detained Viktor Yaroshuk, a freelance journalist working with the independent satellite television station Belsat. A court ordered him to pay fines for “violating regulations on manufacturing and distributing mass media materials”. Local media in Minsk reported that authorities did not tell Yaroshuk what mass media materials he had distributed.

Freelance Belsat correspondents Andrey Tolchin and Konstantin Zhukovsky were also detained as they filmed a factory in the southeastern city of Dobrush. They were released after a document check, according to local media. Police also held Zhukovsky for more than four hours on 18 March as the journalist travelled to the southeastern city of Mozyr, where he planned to cover anti-government protests.

Belsat TV freelancers Lyubov Luneva and Olga Davydova were held for about an hour on Wednesday as they interviewed wives of jailed activists outside a prison in the capital Minsk. Their interviewees were also detained. Police searched the phones of the journalists and released them without charge, Belsat reported.


John Keenan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Belarus bookshop rallies against publishing crackdown
Independent publishing house Lohvinau launches crowdfunding campaign after government imposed heavy fine on Minsk literary hub

Maeve Shearlaw

03, Feb, 2015 @9:10 AM

Article image
Belarus regime steps up ‘purge’ of activists and media
Alexander Lukashenko leading ‘vicious operation to eviscerate critical voices’ and civil society, rights groups warn

Sarah Johnson

09, Aug, 2021 @5:01 AM

Article image
Free speech groups condemn Turkey's closure of 29 publishers after failed coup
Organisations including PEN International have spoken out about the ‘grave impact on democracy’ caused by major crackdown on book trade

Alison Flood

03, Aug, 2016 @1:44 PM

Article image
‘Persecuted, jailed, destroyed’: Belarus seeks to stifle dissent
Journalists and activists targeted in most wide-reaching crackdown since days of Soviet Union

Andrew Roth in Moscow

28, May, 2021 @8:11 AM

Article image
Neil Gaiman and Ai Weiwei join major names writing to jailed authors
Marking PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, authors and artists have written letters of hope and solidarity to colleagues in prison

Alison Flood

15, Nov, 2017 @3:21 PM

Article image
Belarus deports Swedish journalist amid media crackdown
Paul Hansen one of 50 reporters, including BBC Moscow’s Steve Rosenberg, detained by police

Luke Harding, Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and Shaun Walker

28, Aug, 2020 @9:44 PM

Article image
EU pledges €3bn funding for Belarus if it transitions to democracy
Ursula von der Leyen comes close to calling for regime change as she urges country to ‘change course’

Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Andrew Roth in Moscow

28, May, 2021 @1:15 PM

Article image
Belarus jails senior staff at independent news site in crackdown on Lukashenko critics
Twelve-year sentences for the women condemned as president’s ‘revenge’ while UN report accuses country of possible crimes against humanity

Guardian staff and agencies

18, Mar, 2023 @4:29 AM

Article image
Amid arrests and killings, Bangladesh and India must fight censorship | Arundhati Roy
On PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer, the Indian novelist addresses photographer Shahidul Alam, charged with criticising Bangladesh on Facebook

Arundhati Roy

15, Nov, 2018 @1:05 PM

Article image
Belarus repeatedly interrupts at UN amid 'new iron curtain' warnings
Human rights council votes to adopt resolution condemning violations in Belarus

Jon Henley and Julian Borger

18, Sep, 2020 @4:43 PM