Three Current Time journalists deported from Belarus ahead of the country’s August 9 presidential election have arrived safely in Odesa, Ukraine. One member of the team has stated that they have been banned from entering Belarus for 10 years. The reason for their August 7 detention remains unclear.
The journalists -- Evening news anchor Iryna Romaliiska and correspondents Yury Baranyuk and Ivan Grebenyuk -- had been covering Belarus’ presidential campaign for the Russian-language television-digital network led by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in association with the Voice of America.
Posting on Facebook a photo of the team on Ukraine’s Black Sea shoreline, senior writer and producer Ivan Grebenyuk described the early-morning scene as “the best dawn in life.”
Current Time will broadcast a live discussion with Grebenyuk, Baranyuk, and Romaliiska at 4 p.m. on August 8.
Police detained the three journalists on August 7 in the Belarusian capital’s Hotel Minsk.
Grebenyuk stated that uniformed riot police had knocked, then stormed into his room. Police took the journalists in a mini-van with tinted windows for an interrogation, he said. The officers made “’encouraging’ promises,” and stated they would not use torture, he said. He did not elaborate.
Speaking to Current Time’s Evening program on August 7, the network’s Belarusian correspondent, Roman Vasyukovich, who was working with Baranyuk and Romaliiska in a Hotel Minsk room at the time of the detentions, said that police, when repeatedly asked, did not provide a reason for detaining the journalists. The reason would be given at Minsk’s Moskovskoye police station, they were told.
The officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, refused to allow Vasyukovich to collect from the hotel rooms the team’s video cameras, microphone, and flash disks that contained their work, he said. The journalists’ notebooks appear to have been taken with them to the Moskovskoye police station.
Taking journalists’ technical equipment, checking its contents, and even confiscating it is the “usual practice” for Minsk police detaining journalists, he added.
Vasyukovich, who was not detained, reported that police had twice “politely” asked him not to call anyone from the hotel room to inform them about the detentions.
He reported unusual difficulty later using his cell phone to contact Current Time about the detentions. Mobile Internet connections in Minsk have been patchy for Current Time throughout its coverage of the election campaign.
Current Time has sent a request for information about these detentions to Belarus’ Interior Ministry.
Based on preliminary information, the detention appears to be connected to the journalists’ accreditation status.
“Our Current Time journalists were detained in the course of professionally carrying out their work covering the Belarusian presidential election,” commented RFE/RL Acting President and Editor-in-Chief Daisy Sindelar. “Current Time requested accreditation for its journalists well in advance of the election. The failure by Belarusian authorities to grant credentials is yet another example of their contempt for the rights of a free press and the right of Belarusians to uncensored Information. We are outraged by their detention and demand respect for the internationally recognized rights of journalists to do their work.”
Romaliiska and Grebenyuk are Ukrainian citizens, based in Current Time’s headquarters in the Czech capital, Prague; Baranyuk is a Russian citizen based in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The detentions took place following a four-hour August 6 live program about the Belarusian election campaign. The broadcast, which included footage from a rally in Minsk for main opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been viewed more than 500,000 times on social media.
Belarusian Association of Journalists Deputy Chairman Boris Goretski is confident that the live stream of this program led to the journalists’ detention. His group has informed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in which Belarus participates, and the International Federation of Journalists that the Foreign Ministry took “a political decision” in not providing an answer to foreign journalists’ accreditation request within the 20-day period designated by law, Goretski said.
The Foreign Ministry, however, has told him that restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than “political motivations,” are why foreign media have not received accreditation, he added.
Under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s direction, however, Belarus has generally taken a relatively relaxed approach to combating the pandemic.
“Yes, the situation in Minsk is rather interesting,” Goretski commented. “They’re starting to tighten the screws.”
Detentions of independent journalists, bloggers, and Tsikhanouskaya supporters as well as arrests of opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka have marked Belarus’ 2020 presidential election campaign to date.