At least six journalists were detained on Wednesday in Belarus in a second wave of arrests targeting independent members of the independent media who have been accused of using the state-run news agency without subscription.
The editor of the Realt.by news website Vladislav Kuletski, a specialist in the real estate market, and three other journalists from the publication were arrested by the police after a search, Kuletski told RFE / RL radio.
They are suspected of having accessing the services of Belta News Agency, controlled by the Belarussian state, without paying for this access.
“The Investigation Committee came to get me,” Pavel Bykowski, Belarusian correspondent for the Russian-language service of the German website Deutsche Welle, said on Twitter.
His arrest and that of a sixth journalist, Alexey Zhukov, was confirmed by investigators, who also announced in a statement that searches have been carried out on the premises of the “Culture and Art” and AitiVi media outlets.
The detentions followed three journalists from the news site Tut.by and a journalist from the BelaPAN news agency, who are also suspected of having used Belta’s services without paying.
If they are found guilty, those arrested face up to two years in prison and a temporary ban on their profession, according to Belarusian law.
Another journalist, working for the weekly “The Belarussians and the Market”, was also summoned by the police for the same reason.
The NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the actions as “totally disproportionate to the accusations” and “intimidation against independent reference media.”
The Council of Europe called for a “prompt and transparent investigation” and the release of arrested journalists.
Belarussian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said the crackdown was “not political and has nothing to do with freedom of the press.”
Belarus, led by President Alexander Lukashenko with an iron fist since 1994, maintains constant control over the media, which has been hardened after protests in March 2017, which led to hundreds of arrests.
Belarus is ranked 155th in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, denouncing an “escalation of repression” since 2017.