The AP team of Moscow reporter Daria Litvinova, video journalist Kostya Manenkov and Minsk photographer Sergei Grits gained the trust of poll workers in Belarus who gave exclusive, on-camera interviews detailing extensive fraud in the Aug. 9 election.
Protesters and opposition politicians have called the election rigged since the moment the results were announced showing authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won with 80% support. Reports of fraud at the polls have appeared on social media and in some local independent media, but the reporting often featured anonymous interviews and piecemeal accounts. Litvinova and Manenkov wanted to go deeper.
They reached out to poll workers who at first were too afraid to speak on-the-record and on camera – especially since protesters had been beaten by police and arrested. The pair worked tirelessly to gain the trust of several poll workers, working through a local election monitoring group that had become familiar with Manenkov’s work. Eventually they convinced several poll workers to share their stories with the AP, on camera and with still photos by Grits.
What the workers told them was stunning: One said she was asked to sign a document summing up the results with the vote totals blank before voting ended for the day. Another who pointed out violations during the vote counting was fired on the spot. A third said he falsified results to favor Lukashenko and was now overcome with guilt for betraying the trust of the voters.
As they worked on this story and continued to cover the protests, Manenkov and AP Russia-based photographer Dmitri Lovetsky were arrested and ordered out of Belarus. Minsk-based photographer Grits and reporter Yuras Karmanau also were arrested and had their press credentials revoked. As a result, the two made the decision to leave Belarus.