On Lukashenka’s b-day, protests grow bolder while foreign journalists silenced & deported

On Lukasshenka's birthday, many protesters carried makeshift "gifts"such as a coffin and a cockroach model ("cockroach" is a moniker given to the Lukasenka by the protesters).
Photo: Nadzeia Buzhan, Nasha Niva 

International

On 30 August, self-proclaimed president-elect of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka celebrated his 66th birthday. Dozens of thousands of Belarusians protesting against rigged elections for the 22nd day in a row brought him birthday presents – including coffins, funeral wreaths, and a model of a cockroach. Amid the intensifying protests and continuing arrests, foreign journalists have had their licenses revoked and some were deported.

It is unclear what the exact number of protesters is, but it appears that their number was comparable to the two historic rallies held the previous Sundays, when around 200,000 were estimated to assemble in central Minsk (“several hundred thousand” according to Nasha Niva). It was also the boldest, according to independent media Nasha Niva. This time, the protesters circled the Independence Palace, Lukashenka’s main residence, and delivered “presents” to its gate (all photos below by Nadzeia

At the palace, the protesters were met with a cordon of police and heavy weapons (presumably, a BTR-80).  Photos by tut.by.

At least 125 have been detained at the protests today. It was not without clashes: in front of the building of the KGB, plainclothed police jumped out of a minivan (a common sight in Belarus) and tried to arrest some protesting young men, according to tut.by. The protesters tried to drag the guys away, started rocking the minivan while shouting “Let them out!” and “provocation.” Afterward, the Interior Ministry commented on this episode, saying that three were arrested for attacking a service vehicle. The episode was captured on video:

This march follows the 10,000-strong Women’s March held the previous day, when riot police were powerless to dispell the gathering of women.

Foreign journalists’ licenses revoked

The protest took place amid a crackdown on foreign journalists. According to tut.by, at least 19 journalists have been deprived of their licenses by the decision of the Interdepartmental Commission on Security in the information sphere, without which they cannot work in Belarus. Among them are journalists working for BBC, Reuters, RFE/RL, AFP, RFI, and ARD.

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Voice of Belarus has translated the tut.by report:

Ilya Kuznetsov, as well as Russian citizens Sergey Sergeev and Mikhail Fomin (all three were accredited by the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as journalists of the ARD TV channel), was detained in Minsk [on 28 August]. The journalists spent the night at the police station, and they were released only in the morning.

“They drew up a protocol under Art. 23.34 – active participation in a mass action – and deprived us of accreditation ‘in order to ensure the information security of the country’,” Ilya Kuznetsov told TUT.BY.

According to Ilya, his Russian colleagues are to be deported from Belarus with a ban on returning to the country for five years.

The day before, it became known that the famous Swedish photojournalist and winner of World Press Photo Paul Hansen was also deported from Belarus with a ban on entry for five years.

Hansen was detained on 27 August. On that day, more than 50 journalists were detained in Minsk, including the correspondents of TUT.BY. The Belarusian Association of Journalists appealed to the head of the Investigative Committee with a demand to initiate a criminal case for obstructing the lawful professional activity of journalists.

It should be reminded that print editions, such as the Belarusian Komsomolskaya Pravda, Narodnaya Volya, Belgazeta, and Svobodnye Novosti Plus, are also experiencing difficulties with printing and distribution.

Even before the elections, Aleksander Lukashenko criticized the foreign media as well as officials who await instructions from the president on how to proceed in this case.

“Everyone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sitting and waiting for the president’s command. What is this attitude towards the country? BBC, ‘Svoboda’, ‘Free Europe’ and so on, these streams … I’m not talking about tendentiousness, they also call for riots. Why do you put up with this? You accredited them here. There is no need to wait for any end to the electoral campaign. Expel them from here if they do not comply with our laws and call people to the Maidan,” Lukashenko said during a meeting with the leadership of the country’s economic block.

The previous day, on 27 August, dozens of journalists were detained in Minsk and taken for questioning. Among the detainees were journalists of the Belarusian TUT.BY, Nasha Niva, Belsat, and BelaPAN, RFE/RL, Reuters, AP, TASS, RIA Novosti, Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, BBC.

Voices of Belarus have translated some of the interviews journalists gave to Tut.by after being released.

Nadzia Buzhan, photographer for Nasha Niva, described how the law enforcements looked through the photos made by the detained journalists. “One of the employees there implied that if I refuse to delete the photos, my camera could accidentally fall and break”:

Around midnight, an ambulance came to the police department and took away a BelaPAN journalist, Tatsiana Karaviankova:

Journalists who refused to provide access to their phones remained detained; their lawyers were not allowed inside. At about 1 am Vadim Zamirouski, a TUT.BY photographer, was released from the police department. His camera, flash drives and phone were taken away.

That day, law enforcement officials also detained protesters on Independence Square in Minsk. Human rights activists reported more than 200 detainees.

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