Russian TV reporter Rodion Marinichev was given 24 hours to leave the country after his arrest yesterday in Minsk and was banned from returning for five years. His deportation came just days after President Alexander Lukashenko urged his government to rein in news media which, in his view, have been “creating the panic” that is the cause of the country’s current economic crisis.
“We condemn the government’s tendency to blame the media for every crisis,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The protests against the elections last December, the Minsk metro bombing and now the economic crisis have all been used as pretexts to crack down harder on the media. The expulsion of another foreign journalist fpr trying to cover events in Belarus is intolerable.”
The correspondent of the Russian TV station Dozhd, Marinichev was arresting immediately after interviewing Irina Khalip, the Belarusian correspondent of the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who was given a two-year suspended jail sentence on 16 May. His video recording of the interview was erased.
Andrey Bastunets of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) described Marinichev’s deportation as illegal. That fact that he did not have government accreditation was not grounds for expelling him, he said.
Deporting foreign journalists is starting to become a habit for the Belarusian government. Alexander Loshmankin, a Russian journalist who founded the human rights website Svoboda, was arrested as he was about to cover an opposition demonstration on 24 March. After being held for three days, he learned that his accreditation had been rescinded and he had to leave the country.
President Lukashenko, who is on the Reporters Without Borders list of Predators of Press Freedom, lashed out at the media during a meeting on the economic crisis on 27 May.
“I won’t name any names to avoid giving them publicity, but the government must do everything it can to ensure they are no longer present in our country,” he said, going on to accuse the Russian media of being the most “hysterical” and of portraying Belarusians as “savages” with nothing in their shop windows.