Belarus Detains 18 Journalists in Raids at Independent OutletsMOSCOW — The authorities in Belarus have detained at least 18 journalists, accusing them of unlawfully obtaining information from a state news agency, local news reports said on Wednesday, raising fears of a crackdown on dissent.
Accompanied by police officers, officials from the Investigative Committee searched the offices in Minsk, the capital, of three independent news outlets on Tuesday and Wednesday, cordoning them off while confiscating documents and computer hard drives. Those detained included Marina Zolotova, the editor in chief of Tut.by, Belarus’s leading independent news website.
Other organizations targeted by the operation include the Belarusian Private News Agency and Realt.by, a real estate publication. At least five apartments belonging to journalists, including a Deutsche Welle correspondent, were also searched.
Six of those detained were released after questioning, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said.
The Investigative Committee accused those detained of gaining illegal access to a Belarusian Telegraph Agency website that is available only to paying subscribers “more than 15,000 times over a two-year period.”
The criminal offense in question is punishable by a fine, a ban from certain professions, arrest, or up to two years of house arrest or prison time.
Tut.by and the Belarusian Private News Agency, known as BelaPAN, deny the accusations.
The raids drew protests from the Council of Europe, an organization that focuses on human rights and that includes nearly every country on the Continent but not Belarus. A press officer for the secretary general called on Minsk to “liberate all the arrested journalists” and to respect freedom of the press.
Reporters Without Borders, which considers Belarus one of the world’s 25 least hospitable countries for journalists, also condemned the actions of the authorities. Johann Bihr, who leads the organization’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, criticized Minsk’s “attempts to intimidate leading independent media outlets at a time of growing harassment of critical journalists.”
Reporters have long faced repression in Belarus, where President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has governed since 1994. Protests against a tax on the unemployed, which began in Minsk and spread in March 2017, unleashed a crackdown on dissent that, analysts said, could persist until the next elections, scheduled for 2020.