Iryna Leushyna, Editor-in-chief at BelaPAN news agency, has not appeared at work on Thursday morning, her mobile phone is switched off.
The journalist has been detained over the so-called Belta copyright infringement case, the Belarusian Investigative Committee said on Telegram. At the moment, Leushyna is reportedly waiting for being interrogated by investigators, her flat has been searched.
On August 7, an unprecedented wave of media workers’ arrests started in Belarus.
After Iryna Akulovich, Head of state-controlled news agency BelTA, had reported ‘illegal access to their premium content’, the Belarusian Investigative Committee initiated a criminal case under the article ‘unauthorized access to computer information, made out of personal interest, which caused significant harm’. According to the authorities’ version, some employees of the above-mentioned media outlets have used another person’s password and got information owned by the Lukashenka mouthpiece over the past two years.
Tut.by journalists Halina Ulasik, Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Ulyana Babayed, Dzmitry Bobryk, Hanna Yermachonak, BelaPAN editors Tatsyana Karavyankova and Andrey Serada, Deutsche Welle correspondent Paulyuk Bykouski and the Belarusians and Market journalist Alyaksei Zhukau were also detained. Later Bobryk, Serada and Babayed were released, but the rest are spending three days behind bars.
“We consider that [the situation] a flagrant violation of freedom of expression and media freedom. In any case, the actions of law enforcement agencies seem excessive. Investigation of criminal cases should not affect the freedom and professional activities of the media. We are especially concerned by persecution of the media on the background of systematic violations of the right to disseminate information and intimidation of journalists through prosecution of BelaPAN founder Ales Lipai and Belsat TV journalists. We call for the immediate release of the detainees and ensuring access of other Tut.by and BelaPAN to their working places,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said in its statement.
“Legislation must be respected but investigations do not always require arrests which should be used as an ultimate tool. We therefore call on the Belarusian investigative authorities to ensure rapid and transparent investigation. We also call to liberate all the arrested journalists,” Daniel Holtgen, Spokesperson for the Secretary General of Council of Europe, said on Tuesday.
The US Embassy in Minsk has also urged the government of Belarus to keep its international commitments by respecting fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and of media, and immediately release the detained journalists.