At least 30 members of the press across Belarus have been detained over the last week amid a continued crackdown on independent journalists and media organizations. The International Press Institute (IPI) demands the release of those still in detention and an end to the targeting of journalists in Belarus.
The latest wave of repression began on July 8 with a raid on one of Belarus’ oldest and most popular news organizations, Nasha Niva. Based in Minsk, Nasha Niva’s website was blocked after the Belarus Prosecutor General’s Office accused Nasha Niva of posting unlawful information. Nasha Niva’s offices, as well as apartments of its staff, were searched by Belarusian authorities, resulting in the detention of editors, reporters, and photographers. Nasha Niva reported that editor Yahor Martsinovich was beaten while in detention.
Similar actions were taken against another independent Belarusian news organization, TUT.BY, in May. Belarusian authorities arrested some of the organization’s journalists and blocked its website.
Nasha Niva and TUT.BY both covered the 2020–2021 protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994 and is often referred to as Europe’s last dictator. The protests rocked Belarus before, during, and after Lukashenko’s August 2020 re-election, which was widely regarded as fraudulent. Authorities detained tens of thousands of people — including dozens of journalists — and subjected hundreds to torture, according to Human Rights Watch.
In addition to Nasha Niva, authorities blocked a technology news website and the Euroradio website. The Minsk bureau of Euroradio, an international radio station that promotes democratic values, was closed by the Belarusian authorities on July 5.
Across the country, other local news organizations were targeted in the crackdown. Ihar Kazmerchak, the editor of the independent outlet orsha.eu, was arrested in the northeastern city of Orsha. In Brest, near the Polish border, KGB agents raided the offices of Intex-Press, another independent newspaper, and seized all editorial equipment, including cameras and disks. Authorities also seized equipment from and searched the offices of Media-Polesye in the Polesie region of Belarus.
“The wave of arrests and raids over the past week only confirm the lengths that the Belarusian regime is willing to go in order to shut down all independent reporting and preserve its hold on power”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The authorities have wiped out any notion of press freedom and free expression. IPI continues to demand the release of all jailed journalists in Belarus and an end to all attacks on the press.”
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), 29 journalists are currently behind bars. Despite Western sanctions, Belarus has only further escalated its crackdown on the press. In May, authorities intercepted a passenger plane carrying dissident blogger and activist Roman Protasevich in order to arrest him, prompting outrage and further sanctions. His girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, was also detained.
IPI has repeatedly called for Protasevich’s release. Protasevich gave a forced confession on state television in early June under clear duress, praising Lukashenko.