On February 9, one-and-a-half years will have passed since presidential elections in Belarus widely considered to be fraudulent. Since then, journalists have been detained more than 500 times by the Belarusian state authorities as part of a wide-ranging crackdown on media freedom following nationwide protests.
Thirty-three Belarusian journalists and media workers currently remain behind bars. IPI strongly condemns the continuing crackdown on independent media and urges the international community not to lose sight of the systematic attacks on press freedom and freedom of speech.
Since Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in the presidential elections on August 9, 2020, independent media in Belarus have faced severe and continuing persecution. Recent examples show that the Belarusian regime continues to stamp out the remaining sources of independent and critical information.
On January 19, Savetski District Court in Minsk sentenced well-known journalist Aliaksandr Ivulin to prison for two years. Ivulin, a sports reporter for Belarus’s largest independent sports news website, Tribuna, and a football player, was found guilty of organizing and participating in events that “grossly disrupt the public order”.
The same day, journalist and writer Sevyaryn Kvyatkouski was detained upon arrival back in Belarus from Poland and accused of resharing a video that insulted a police officer. Kvyatkouski has since been released.
On January 14, the office of Belarusian 6tv.by and the homes of journalists Barys Vyrvich and Yauhen Glushkou were raided by police. Computers and other equipment belonging to the journalists were confiscated.
These cases are the latest in a string of detentions and violent incidents against journalists. Since the elections, over 130 journalists have been sentenced to detention for different periods of time, according to information gathered by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
Sixty-eight journalists have experienced violence or suffered injuries. State authorities have also conducted searches of over 140 offices or employees’ homes.
Many journalists and media workers have left Belarus. According to a survey of its members that the BAJ conducted in November 2021, about half of the journalists who answered are no longer in the country. Many independent media have been blocked and independent journalists try to continue their work through social media platforms. But merely subscribing to a Telegram channel of an independent media can lead to an arrest.
“During the past 18 months, journalists in Belarus have endured unprecedented repression by the government”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The Lukashenko regime aims to purge Belarus of independent journalism and is making it increasingly difficult for Belarusian journalists to provide accurate and impartial information. The international community must not lose focus of the systematic media crackdown in Belarus over the last year and a half. Trumped-up accusations and arbitrary arrests must end and all imprisoned journalists must be released. The IPI global network stands with all our Belarusian colleagues, both those who have been forced to flee abroad and those still working within the country.”
Anti-extremist laws used against media
At the beginning of November 2021, the Belarusian KGB declared the private news agency BelaPan an extremist organization. Shortly thereafter, on November 3, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus declared TV channel Belsat TV to be an extremist organization as well. TV Belsat journalist Katsyaryna Andreyeva and camerawoman Darya Chultsova are currently serving two-year sentences in a penal colony.
Conducting or participating in extremist activities is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years. BAJ has stated that using anti-extremist laws against media is a crude violation of press freedom and freedom of speech.
BAJ noted that the decisions of the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs are against the norms of both Belarusian and international law. IPI joins BAJ in demanding that the Belarusian stop using anti-extremist law to restrict the media.