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”.
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.