An easy target

In Belarus, journalists are beaten and detained, and no one will be held responsible for it

12 August 2020, 11:55 | Volha Loika, TUT.BY
Detention of Siamion Pehau.
Source: Dzmitry Brushko, TUT.BY

Vest, badge, passport, editorial ID and assignment. “Press” on the chest, on the back, but not on the forehead. You are signed and marked on all sides. But that doesn’t guarantee anything. Rather the opposite. You are an easy and comfortable target.

Clashes between protesters and police in Minsk began on the night of August 9-10. We, the journalists working “in the field,” were the first to see and hear the flash-noise grenades on the Stele, and on Niamiha we were fired upon with tear gas and water cannons. Everything happens for the first time, so we, who work in a peaceful and prosperous Belarus, have to shout to the editor on duty into the phone:

“They are shooting on Niamiha!” (On 9 August it sounded crazy, by 12 August they got used to it).

“Who?! Out of what?!”

“OMON. Who knows from what! Machine gun, rifle, pistol – I could not make out. What does the army use? What bullets do these things shoot? Hopefully rubber …”

Peaceful Belarusian journalists mastered vocabulary and new realities on the go. The president’s jokes about the fact that a person in a skirt will not distinguish an infantry fighting vehicle from an armored personnel carrier acquired a new ominous meaning. I had to learn to distinguish.

Our Russian colleagues were the first to take a hit. Maxim Solopov, a Meduza journalist disappeared – there was no communication with him for over 40 hours. Then the Daily Storm correspondents Anton Starkov and Dmitry Lasenko were also detained, and Siamion Pehau, the creator of the WarGonzo project, ended up stuffed in the same police truck with them.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the embassy took care of their citizens rather quickly, not forgetting to poke their Belarusian colleagues, stating that the country which so elegantly overcame the coronavirus pandemic could have issued the accreditation requested by journalists in time and in accordance with the established procedure.

The law enforcers took it easy on the Belarusian journalists on the first night. Or we were just lucky. They did not beat us, did not detain us during the total wipeout of the protesters, and instead, sprightly cussing, advised those of us not paying attention to back off, if we got too close to the action. So, “thanks for being alive”, as the song of Vysotsky goes.

Source: Volha Shukaila, TUT.BY

The very next day, however, was no picnic. Nasha Niva journalist Natalya Lubnevskaya was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet and a TUT.BY photographer miraculously escaped serious injuries – she got hit in the very badge which hangs on the chest of every journalist. Nasha Niva wrote that the journalists were standing in a group and had identification vests. People in khaki uniforms were deliberately shooting towards media workers.

The same day Tatyana Kapitonova, photo correspondent of BELSAT TV channel, was shell-shocked close to Aurora cinema. A stun grenade exploded by her side.

Then it went from bad to worse. On 10 August, Nasha Niva editor Yegor Martinovich, who managed to send SOS messages to his colleagues, disappeared. He is detained, and the police even promised to locate him. The pace of search invites the assumption that he could have been heavily beaten during the detention – it is taking surprisingly long to find a man being held by a law enforcement agency, keeping in mind he has all the identification documents on him.

TUT.BY correspondent Stanislau Korshunau, detained in the evening of 11 August in Brest while executing his professional duties, hasn’t been released yet either. The local police department refused to tell Stanislau’s wife where her husband is or why he had been detained. Some time later Brest police chief Aliaksandr Astreika said that Stanislau is now in the temporary detention center of Leninski district police department in Brest, and that he will have to prove in court that he is a journalist.

“About 10 OMON officers launched at Stanislau. He was wearing a vest with a large inscription TUT.BY on both sides, shouting that he is a representative of the press. It seemed that he was detained purposefully – no one touched other journalists, walking nearby,” Denis, an eyewitness, told TUT.BY.

Screenshot from a video.
Source: TUT.BY

And a list of others. TUT.BY cameraman Vsevolod Zarubin got injured – the law enforcers hit him on the leg, broke the camera screen and took a flash drive with video. They ripped off the badge of TUT.BY photographer Vadim Zamirovsky and confiscated his flash drive, too. Flash drives were also confiscated from other photographers: Daria Buryakina from TUT.BY, Sergey Grits from Associated Press and Nadezhda Buzhan from Nasha Niva.

In Grodno they tried to detain our correspondent Olga Komyagina. Wearing a TUT.BY vest, she tried to run away from the law enforcers during a violent crackdown on people who were peacefully standing and sitting in the area of the Old Bridge. Ten people, including correspondents of TUT.BY and local portal, ran into the store at the Gornovykh street. OMON broke in and started violent detentions. Olga managed to fight back, but correspondent Ruslan Kulevich, his pregnant wife and other Hrodna residents were detained. Onliner reported that in Minsk, the police forcefully held their photo editor Vladislav Borisevich and video correspondent Sergey Ptushko. The latter had his camera broken. An hour later, they were released with the assistance of the MIA press office.

BBC News Russian reported that a group of men in black uniforms with no identification markers came up to their journalists in Minsk. One of them demanded to see their accreditation (the journalists had one), then ripped the card from the correspondent’s neck and tore the camera out of his hands. The service reports that their cameraman got beaten up, but the journalists were not detained.

Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reported that their journalist Gennady Mozheiko who was wearing the Press vest and a helmet got hit on his legs with a baton in the Serebryanka district, when law enforcers approached his car and demanded him and the driver to get out.

Most likely, BAJ will make an angry statement about the arrests and the beatings of the journalists. The police will report that these reporters were guilty because they violated the rules. The Ministry of Information will keep silent. It has already given us a warning. If anyone didn’t understand it, it wasn’t the Ministry’s fault. The embassies and the Foreign Ministries will take care of the foreign correspondents.

But if the protests continue, we’ll go out in the field again today. Because that’s our job – to tell others about the things that are important.