Five Belarusian journalists were detained by police following searches at the offices of two independent news outlets Tut.by and BelaPAN on August 7. Police said the journalists illegally obtained information from the state-run news agency BelTA.

The reporters were identified as Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Halina Ulasik, and Hanna Yermachonak from Tut.by, and Tatsyana Karavyankova from BelaPAN.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Council of Europe human rights body on August 7 expressed great concern” over the raid and detentions, which mark the latest moves in a broad crackdown on media that report critically on strongman President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his government.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its August 7 statement condemned the police raids and urged Belarusian authorities to stop the “harassment of critical journalists”.

In a separate report, Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, said Paulyuk Bykowski, who works for its Russian service, was taken into custody. DW has lodged a protest with the Belarusian ambassador in Berlin.

Authorities arrested Deutsche Welle journalist Paulyuk Bykowski in the Belarusian capital Minsk on August 8.

“The investigating committee came to me,” Bykowski, who works for DW’s Russian service, wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday morning.

His wife, Volha Bykovskaya, later confirmed to DW that a search team took away computer, tablets, phones, pen drives, discs and bank cards from their apartment. “The search took about two hours,” she said.

DW has lodged a protest with the Belarusian ambassador in Berlin, stressing that the rule of law must apply to accredited journalists.

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir on august 8 expressed serious concern over the detention of journalists. “The highly disproportionate measures taken by law enforcement against two independent news agencies raises serious concern about the respect for the independent media in Belarus,” Desir said in a statement.

“These raids, which compromise the confidentiality of journalistic sources, are out of all proportion to the charges,” said Johann Bihr, the head of Reporter Without Border’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

In a separate report, the Reuters news agency noted that a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the detentions had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

“This is purely a legal matter,” the ministry said in a statement.

Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said government pressure on independent media had been on the rise in the last year.

“I link this (case) with the general trend and the desire to control the internet space,” he said of the detentions.