Journalists detained in attempt to silence dissent

'This clumsy attempt to silence local and foreign journalists adds to

the Belarusian government's already embarassing record on human rights ',

Amnesty International added.

The Russian embassy in Minsk reportedly intervened to secure the

release of several television reporters working for the Russian television

broadcasters NTV, ORT and RTR. Reporters from ORT and RTR have complained

that expensive camera equipment was damaged when they were detained.

Reporters from the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty and Associated Press

were also among the journalists detained.

The majority of the journalists detained work for Belarus' independent

newspapers. They have been very vocal in their opposition to President

Lukashenka's increasingly unpopular rule and the poor human rights

situation in the country. Representatives from the independent Nasha

Svaboda, Nasha Niva, Kurier and Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta newspapers

were released after several hours.

'Amnesty International has frequently criticised the Belarusian

government for its harassment of independent journalists and periodic

clamp-downs on the free press. On Saturday it showed the world that its

intolerance of independent thought has reached new levels', Amnesty

International said.

Between 400 - 500 demonstrators were detained by the police, who were

patrolling the centre of Minsk in large numbers. Amnesty International has

received reports that police officers used significant amounts of force to

detain some protestors. A number of people have complained of being knocked

to the ground, beaten with truncheons, kicked by police officers and

verbally abused. Most of the detainees were reportedly released between two

and three hours later.

'By suppressing the right of Belarusians to peacefully exercise their

right of assembly on Saturday and the right of journalists to report it,

the authorities violated basic human rights'.

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