One RFE/RL journalist was arrested and another had her video camera confiscated as security forces in Belarus conducted what a RFE/RL journalist described as an “unprecedented” crackdown on July 3 while hundreds took to the streets in nationwide protests of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government.
“I’ve never witnessed anything like this in Minsk in all the demonstrations I’ve covered,” said Halina Abakunchyk, a journalist for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, Radio Svaboda, whose camera was taken by police before she swiped it back. She reported that protesters were being “snatched up by unknown people in plain clothes,” forced into riot police vehicles and taken away.
During the crackdown, Radio Svaboda correspondent Mikhal Karnievich was detained in Hrodna, released and expects to stand trial on July 6. Other Radio Svaboda freelancers and stringers, one of whom had her camera lens smashed during a scuffle with riot police, were detained during the sweep and their trials are also expected to be held on Wednesday. Rights activists said that Belarus has convicted at least 140 people in Minsk and other cities. Some protesters were given sentences of between two and 15 days of imprisonment for “hooliganism” and “participation in an unsanctioned demonstration,” while others escaped jail but received fines. About 200 more cases are pending throughout the country.
The protests were initiated by the Internet-based opposition group Revolution Through the Social Network, which called on people to take part in peaceful hand-clapping gatherings on July 3 to mark Belarus’s Independence Day.
At the same time that Radio Svaboda was posting protest coverage to its website, it and all RFE/RL websites were affected by a suspected distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, although service was quickly restored. In 2008, Radio Svaboda’s and RFE/RL’s websites were targets of a similar attack during coverage of an opposition protest in Belarus.
“We can’t say definitively who was responsible for the attack on our website, but this is the second time our site has been targeted while we were providing coverage of protests,” said Radio Svaboda Director Alexander Lukashuk.