Belarus police arrest Deutsche Welle correspondent before vote
Authorities in Belarus are targeting independent journalists ahead of Sunday's presidential election. A reporter for German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) has been arrested.
Freelance journalist Alexander Burakov, who reports from Belarus for DW's Russian-language service, was preparing to celebrate his 46th birthday with his family on Thursday. Instead, he ended up in a temporary detention cell after being arrested twice by the police in his hometown, Mogilyov, about 200 kilometres (120 miles) east of the capital, Minsk.
Burakov was stopped by the police Wednesday evening on suspicion of "transporting counterfeit alcohol", he told the non-governmental human rights centre Viasna. After police inspected Burakov's car without finding anything, officers suggested that the vehicle, which he has owned since 2013, had been stolen and the car's identification number might have been faked. As a result, the journalist was taken to the local police station.
A few hours later, Burakov was released – only to be arrested again a few steps from the police station. Boris Vyrvich, the head of the local branch of the Belarusian Association of Journalists in Mogilyov, told DW that, according to witnesses, Burakov had argued with an unidentified woman in front of the police station and screamed out: "It's a provocation." After that, he was seized.
It was Burakov's second arrest in the past two months. He was previously seized on May 8 and sentenced to 10 days in a temporary detention facility. DW attempted to contact Burakov several times on Thursday but his mobile phone had been switched off.
Burakov had expected to be detained. A few days before his arrest, he told DW that he was worried about possible efforts by the authorities to prevent independent journalists from covering the presidential election.
DW condemned Burakov's arrest and called on the authorities to ensure the freedom of press in Belarus. "The intimidation efforts against our correspondent Burakov demonstrate in all clarity the difficult situation for journalists in Belarus," Manuela Kasper-Claridge, DW's editor-in-chief, said in a statement released Thursday.
A growing list
Burakov has become the latest reporter arrested in the government's clampdown on journalists and bloggers. Rights observers contacted by DW said the targeting of journalists was closely connected to Sunday's presidential election.
"Journalists are being prosecuted, hindered from their work and even arrested," Kasper-Claridge said. "This is not acceptable and is to be condemned in the strongest terms. I appeal to the officials in Belarus to finally pay attention to press freedom and let journalists work unhindered."
In a letter to the Ambassador of Belarus in Berlin, DW Director General Peter Limbourg strongly protested this action against the DW correspondent.
"On behalf of Deutsche Welle, I wish to protest most strongly against this clearly arbitrary measure. It blatantly flouts the internationally recognised freedom of the press. I call on your government to examine this case as soon as possible."
Limbourg also questioned the explanation for the arrest. "The reasons put forward for the arrest can only be considered as weak pretexts to prevent independent journalistic work a few days before the presidential election."
The Belarusian Association of Journalists has counted more than 100 cases of prosecution of members of the press across the country since January. Eighty percent of them happened after the start of the presidential campaign in early May, association head Andrey Bastunets told reporters on Thursday. He said authorities clearly wanted to prevent independent observers and journalists from covering the election.
The international media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders called on authorities in Belarus to ensure that independent coverage would remain permitted, and to address the persecution of journalists by the police. Foreign journalists have also been prevented from working freely, the group reports, "at the order of President Alexander Lukashenko".
(FRANCE 24 with DW)
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe