August 9 marks three years since Belarusians stood up to demand a fair count of their votes in the 2020 presidential elections. Since then, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has all but eliminated independent media in the country. On this grim anniversary, the IPI global network renews its demand for the immediate release of all imprisoned journalists as well as the repeal of all bans on the operations of independent media in Belarus. We also call for a restoration of democracy in the country.

From the beginning of the 2020 uprising against Lukashenko, independent media were targeted by authorities and blamed for “calling for” protests. From the first days of the protests, journalists from popular outlets such as Belsat and Nasha Niva were shot at with rubber bullets by security forces despite wearing clear PRESS markings.

In the weeks that followed, dozens of journalists from both Belarusian and foreign media were harassed by security officials, who made little to no distinction between them and protesters beaten and arrested for peacefully demonstrating against the election results, which were soon internationally recognized as falsified. Independent websites were blocked, with Belarusians reverting to news channels on Telegram to stay up to date with the situation in the country.

Up until that point, Lukashenko had firmly controlled traditional media outlets while allowing for a narrow space online for independent media. In the wake of the 2020 mass protests, Lukashenko cracked down on all remaining critical voices in an attempt to censor all information about popular discontent.

Journalists behind bars

In 2020, in the run-up to the elections, authorities in Belarus progressively escalated their practice of jailing journalists. The first target was RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik, who was detained two months before Lukashenko’s reelection, and later sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly “organizing riots” and “inciting hatred” by administering a popular news channel on Telegram.

The situation worsened dramatically after the vote. Soon after the elections, Belsat journalists Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova were detained for video streaming an anti-Lukashenko protest in Minsk. Chultsova was sentenced to two years in prison for “organizing events violating public order”, while Andreyeva received over eight years on the same charges, as well as for “state treason”. 

Since then, several waves of repression hit independent media in Belarus, with Polish-Belarusian journalist and Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent Andrzej Poczobut jailed in March 2021. In May that year, authorities then arrested Lyudmila Chekina and Maryna Zolatava, the editor-in-chief and director of what used to be Belarus’s most popular media outlet, In January 2023, a court in Minsk sentenced both women to 12 years in prison.

As of August 2023, there are 35 journalists and media workers behind bars in Belarus, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the highest count in Europe. 

Media outlets blocked and labeled as ‘extremist’

In Belarus, journalists and their readers alike have been criminalized by the Lukashenko regime. Following the mass protests of 2020, authorities began designating independent media as “extremist formations”, and content published by outlets as “extremist”, effectively banning any reader interactions with those receiving either designation.

Readers face fines or prison terms for reposting online content designated as “extremist”, while subscribing to social media pages (including popular Telegram channels) of many independent media can be qualified by authorities as “assisting an extremist formation”.

As of August 2023, most of Belarus’s popular independent media have received this designation, including Belsat, Euroradio,, Nasha Niva, the Belarusian service of RFE/RL, Charter 97 and, the successor of currently working from abroad.

As a result of these measures, nearly all independent outlets and journalists have been forced to move their operations abroad and carry out their activities in exile.

Toughening regulations and crackdown on remaining local media

Although the environment for independent media in Belarus is already more restricted than at any other point since the country’s independence from Soviet rule in 1991, authorities continue to pass draconian legislation that stifles the work of journalists. 

On July 1 of this year, Lukashenko signed a new law that enables authorities to oust foreign media outlets from countries that the Belarusian government designates as “unfriendly”. Days after the adoption of the law, Belarusian border guards expelled Justyna Prus, the correspondent in Minsk of PAP, Poland’s national press agency.

At the same time, authorities have further cracked down on independent media, now reaching down to the local level. After briefly allowing for the reopening of Intex-Press, a major local weekly based in the central town of Baranavichy, authorities again blocked access to the media outlet’s pages in February 2023, and effectively disbanded the media group.

Two months later, security forces detained Alexander Mantsevich, the editor-in-chief of Rehianalnaya Gazeta (“Regional Newspaper”), a major news outlet based in the northern town of Maladzechna. Mantsevich was accused of “discrediting Belarus”, and now faces up to four years in prison according to article 369.1 of the Belarusian criminal code. Publications by Rehianalnaya Gazeta have also been designated as “extremist”.

Even journalists reporting on issues of low political sensitivity can now face persecution in Belarus. In June, media workers at Ranak TV, a local media in the city of Svietlahorsk, were detained and jailed for several days after the publication of an article on a recent explosion at a factory near the city that left several workers dead. The Belarusian Association of Journalists later reported that following the incident, authorities forced the media company to close, while its website went offline.

International solidarity

“Three years after the start of mass pro-democracy protests in Belarus, there is no end in sight to the horrendous crackdown on free media and journalists in the country”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The Lukashenko regime is determined to silence any independent reporting in the country as part of its effort to cling to power.

“The IPI global networks stands in solidarity with the incredibly courageous Belarusian journalists who continue to do their work in and outside the country, often at great risk to themselves and their families. We continue to demand an end to the crackdown, including the release of all imprisoned journalists and media workers.

“As Lukashenko’s brutal repression continues, the international community must continue to support Belarusian independent media, including ensuring the proper support and conditions for journalists in exile, keeping the foundations for journalism in a future democratic Belarus alive.”