Journalist Group Calls on Belarus to Release Blogger, Other Reporters Before Elections

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Belarus to immediately release a blogger arrested a week ago and allow him and other reporters to “freely and safely” cover Sunday’s presidential elections.The organization’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in New York, Gulnoza Said, said President Aleksandr Lukashenko “wants an election to put a veneer of legitimacy on his longstanding leadership, but he is achieving the reverse by harassing and detaining journalists up and down the country who are trying to cover his opposition.”Belarusian police arrested Evgeniy Vasilkov, who also works as a mechanic, at his garage in Khoiniki July 31 and took him to a police station, local media reported.He was accused of writing a slogan used by Lukashenko critics on road signs.Vasilkov has denied the charge, saying his arrest was retaliatory because of his support for an opposition candidate.He appeared before a local judge who sentenced him to 10 days of detention for “disobeying” police, for allegedly refusing to show them the identification at his arrest.On July 31, Belarusian police also detained five reporters, working for Belsat, an independent satellite broadcaster, while they were livestreaming rallies in support of the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.Her supporters had taken to the streets in large numbers at rallies in the capital, Minsk, and other Belarusian cities.Tikhanovskaya, 37, entered the race with the promise to free political prisoners and call new elections after the arrest in May of her husband, opposition blogger and presidential hopeful, Sergei Tikhanovsky. He was charged with attacking a police officer, a claim he rejected as a provocation.Lukashenko is campaigning for a sixth term amid an increase in opposition protests against his autocratic rule and economic difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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