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  • Authorities hound critical video blogger

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities in Brest, a city on the Polish border in southwestern Belarus, to stop hounding Syarhey Pyatrukhin, a video blogger who has been subjected to arbitrary detention, a string of prosecutions and economic harassment.

    After three days in police cus­tody on a charge on which he was final­ly acquit­ted on 1 August, he is now fac­ing up to three years of hard labour for describ­ing how he was mis­treat­ed when arrest­ed in Feb­ru­ary.

    Pyatrukhin’s most recent arrest was on 27 July, when he refused to let police offi­cers search his Brest home with­out his lawyer being present, and they respond­ed by arrest­ing him on a charge of refus­ing to com­ply with an offi­cial order.

    His video footage of the inci­dent showed that he offered no phys­i­cal resis­tance and did not ver­bal­ly attack any police offi­cer. He was nonethe­less held for three days before being released and acquit­ted. On return­ing home he found that the police had nonethe­less gone in and tak­en his com­put­er.

    The search was part of an inves­ti­ga­tion into Pya­trukhin for “pub­lic insult.” It was prompt­ed by a social net­work post on 23 July in which he accused a police offi­cer of leav­ing him for sev­er­al hours in an unheat­ed police truck in Feb­ru­ary, at a time when the tem­per­a­ture was minus 27.

    On 24 July, he received a sum­mons to report for ques­tion­ing the pre­vi­ous day, 23 July. The pub­lic insult charge car­ries a pos­si­ble sen­tence of three years of forced labour and night-time con­fine­ment.

    So far this year, Pya­trukhin has been sub­ject­ed to three stints of police cus­tody (for a total of nine days in deten­tion) and two search­es of his home. He has also been fined no few­er than six times and, in May, the police con­fis­cat­ed his lap­top, a tablet and a smart­phone.

    “This grotesque per­se­cu­tion of Siarhey Pya­trukhin can only be regard­ed as a reprisal for his activ­i­ties as a crit­i­cal blog­ger,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s East­ern Europe and Cen­tral Asia desk. “We call on the local author­i­ties to stop this harass­ment and to let him report freely.”

    Pya­trukhin crit­i­cizes the local author­i­ties, police bru­tal­i­ty and cor­rup­tion in his video blog, Nar­o­d­ny Repart­sy­or (“Pop­u­lar Reporter), which is wide­ly fol­lowed in the Brest region. He active­ly cov­ered the anti-gov­ern­ment protests in the spring of 2017, and local protests against a Chi­nese company’s con­struc­tion of a car bat­tery plant, which has prompt­ed con­cern about pol­lu­tion.

    Since the major anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in the spring of 2017, the author­i­ties have stepped up efforts to con­trol the Inter­net and media, block­ing lead­ing news web­sites, adopt­ing an even more dra­con­ian media law and sub­ject­ing inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists to an unprece­dent­ed wave of fines.

    Belarus is ranked 155th out of 180 coun­tries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Free­dom Index.

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