Germany’s foreign ministry has urged Belarus to “respect freedom of opinion and the press,” amid the arrests of several independent journalists in the country, including a long-time correspondent for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
“The federal government is watching the developments on the ground very closely,” Germany’s foreign office said, following the detention of DW reporter Paulyuk Bykowski on Wednesday.
Bykowski, a Belarussian citizen, was arrested following a two-hour search of his home, according to a report by Deutsche Welle, which has called for his immediate release. Authorities reportedly seized computers, phones and bank cards as part of the raid.
The detention followed a radio appearance, in which Bykowski discussed raids carried out by Belarus authorities in the newsrooms of two independent Belarussian outlets — Tut.by and BelaPAN — on Tuesday.
The raids resulted in the detention of several journalists from both outlets, including Tut.by’s editor-in-chief, over allegations they illegally accessed and used online information provided by the state-owned news agency BelTA. The charges carry a possible two-year jail sentence, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The editor-in-chief of BelPAN, Irina Levshina, was arrested Thursday in connection with the investigation, according to media reports citing Belarus authorities.
The rights organization Council of Europe condemned the arrests, saying in a statement: “Freedom of the media is one of the most important human rights in a democratic society. It should be respected everywhere in Europe.”
Reporters Without Borders — which ranked Belarus 155th in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index — also expressed concern over the raids, noting they were “are out of all proportion to the charges.”
“It is hard to see them as anything other that attempts to intimidate leading independent media outlets at a time of growing harassment of critical journalists,” said RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia chief Johann Bihr.