News

SoE: Deep concern for journalists attempting to cover Belarus protests

Posted on: August 18, 2020 by Mariella Brown

The Society of Editors has expressed its deep concern over the plight of journalists attempting to cover the protests in Belarus.

The SoE has added its name to an open letter of support for the media in Belarus who have found themselves under attack during the country’s political crisis.

Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE, said “It is essential that journalists the world over as well as our politicians voice their support for our media colleagues who are struggling to provide the people of Belarus with accurate and impartial coverage in their country.

“We urge the authorities in Belarus to ensure the safety of journalists who are simply going about their legal employment.”

Signatories of the open letter include Ricardo Gutiérrez, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists, and journalist Iain Overton, the first managing editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

“We, journalists and editors around the world, wish to express our support for fellow journalists in Belarus who are faithfully and independently reporting on the demonstrations by thousands of people in favor of democracy in the country, and on the right of the people to freedom of expression,” the letter states.

“We support all journalists in Belarus who abide by the International principles of journalism and objective reporting, and we respectfully ask those working for state-owned media to faithfully cover the protests.”

Several television channels have gone on strike, with the state news channel Belarus One broadcasting an empty studio on Monday morning as 300 of the 2,000 employees took strike action.

Presenters and producers were among those who said they would not return to work unless the government implemented five demands, including the removal of television censorship, the Guardian reports.

At least 29 of the approximately 68 journalists who have been detained since the August 9 election were brutalized by police, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Among the detained was a London photographer who travelled to Minsk to report on the elections. Patryk Jaracz reports he was arrested at random, taken to a detention centre and assaulted by guards.

The 30-year-old photojournalist writes in a piece for the Times today that he was held in a cell meant for four detainees that in fact contained 23 people. 

Jaracz says he was standing with other photojournalists at a protest rally taking place in Minsk on the day President Lukashenko declared victory when he was grabbed by officers from the special paramilitary police unit (OMON). 

“We were taken to Okrestina 36, the notorious detention centre where thousands of the arrested civilians were being held,” Jaracz writes.

“We were made to kneel on the concrete for four hours and then to strip naked. There was a pool of blood below me and smears on the wall, and as I tried to stay clear of it I was kicked and beaten with batons.”

He was released after 85 hours.

Alena Scharbinskaya, a correspondent with the independent satellite broadcaster Belsat TV, gave an interview to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about her detainment.

The Belarusian journalist details how she was arrested outside a police station with a colleague, transported to a detention centre, and stripped half naked to be beaten by a female OMON officer.

As with Jaracz’s account, Scharbinskaya says she was kept in a cell designed for four inmates which at one time held 50 women inside.

After her release from her three-day ordeal, Scharbinskaya writes she has been hospitalised for her injuries.

“But I will not stop my work, I am not frightened as a journalist though I understand that everything may start again, and I may suffer much more than I did now,” she told CPJ.

The UK government rejected the results of the presidential election and condemned police violence in a statement yesterday.

“The world has watched with horror at the violence used by the Belarusian authorities to suppress the peaceful protests that followed this fraudulent Presidential election,” said the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.