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Five Belarusian Journalists Remain In Custody After Police Raids

Belarusian police officers during a raid on the BelaPAN news agency in Minsk on August 7.
Belarusian police officers during a raid on the BelaPAN news agency in Minsk on August 7.

MINSK -- More journalists have been detained for questioning in Belarus for allegedly obtaining information illegally from the state-run news agency, BelTA, amid what appears to be a widening crackdown on independent media.

Employees of the website, which offers deals for people interested in renting and purchasing property, told RFE/RL that the website's chief editor Uladzislau Kuletski, journalists Ihar Khmara, Maryya Saroka, and Alena Maslouskaya were detained for questioning by the Investigative Committee on August 8 after police confiscated their computers.

The four journalists were told that they will be questioned regarding the BelTA case.

A former reporter with the Selska Haspadarka magazine, Alyaksey Zhukau, was also detained on August 8 together with his wife Aryna Semychkina.

Journalist Volha Shastakova,a friend of the couple, told RFE/RL that they were detained in the village of Baraulyany near Minsk. The reason for their detention is unknown.

Also on August 8, police visited Paulyuk Bykouski a correspondent with the Deutsche Welle radio station in Minsk.

Bykouski told RFE/RL that the police informed him that their visit was linked to the BelTA case, but after Bykouski explained to them that he had not been using BelTA's information for years, police left.

Earlier on August 7, police detained five Belarusian journalists, all women, following searches at the offices of two independent news outlets, and BelaPAN.

Police said the journalists of the two outlets illegally obtained information from BelTA.

The reporters from the media outlets told RFE/RL on August 8 that Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Halina Ulasik, and Hanna Yermachonak of, and Tatsyana Karavyankova of BelaPAN were in custody.

Meanwhile, a duty officer at Minsk's main detention center on Akrestsin Street confirmed to RFE/RL shortly before midnight on August 7 that editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava was in jail there while the whereabouts of the others remain unknown.

The journalists' lawyers were not allowed to see their clients on August 7.

The Council of Europe human rights body on August 7 expressed "great concern" over the raid and detentions, which mark the latest moves in a broad crackdown on media that report critically of strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its August 7 statement condemned the police raids and urged Belarusian authorities to stop the "harassment of critical journalists."