Human rights defenders: repression against media in Belarus intensifies

Over the past six months, the authorities opened 15 criminal cases against journalists

The Belarusian authorities are increasing pressure on the media, which began in August 2020, simultaneously with the outbreak of civil unrest after the victory of Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential elections, whose results are being contested by the Belarusian opposition. This was reported by two human rights organizations working to defend free journalism..

The Belarusian Association of Journalists and the Reporters Without Borders organization reported that since the elections in the country, criminal cases have been opened against 15 journalists without any reason..

Human rights activists demanded that the authorities end censorship in the media, stop blocking websites, turn off the Internet and revoke the accreditation of journalists. According to representatives of the organizations, in early 2021, the Lukashenka government began to take even more threatening actions: unfounded criminal charges were brought against journalists, the sentences on which could lead to several years in prison..

In addition to searches of journalists’ homes, the Belarusian government has threatened reporters for their coverage of the election results and the massive anti-government protests that began before the elections and have been gaining momentum ever since..

“The Belarusian authorities are using new tactics: they constantly detain journalists so that they cannot cover protests that have been going on for more than five months, despite the repression,” said Zhanna Kavelier, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia group at Reporters Without Borders..

Currently, ten journalists are in Belarusian prisons; criminal investigations are underway against six of them. Human rights activists consider this situation serious enough to convey information about 15 arrests of journalists to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Among the Belarusians detained during the protests is the popular blogger Igor Losik, who faces an eight-year prison sentence and recently ended a six-week hunger strike. Authorities accuse blogger of “helping to organize riots”.

Also under arrest are four members of the Belarusian Press Club, who are accused of large-scale tax fraud (human rights activists call the charges repressive), and three journalists who were charged with organizing mass protests and disclosing information about the protester, who, according to the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was “killed by accomplices of the regime”.

Human rights defenders: repression against media in Belarus intensifies

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, over 470 independent journalists were detained in Belarus last year, 50 news organizations’ websites were blocked, and 15 journalists were charged with criminal charges..

Tikhanovskaya, who spoke at an unofficial meeting of the UN Security Council in January, said that the unrest in Belarus since September “only gets worse” and that the authorities continue to attack the media.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, winning the presidential election every five years. In 2020, Belarus was ranked 153 out of 180 countries in the press freedom rating annually compiled by Reporters Without Borders..

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