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    May – July 2023. Download PDF






    Changes in the Law on Reg­u­la­tion of Mass Media Activ­i­ty

    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists

    Oth­er pres­sure on jour­nal­ists and media

    The use of anti-extrem­ist leg­is­la­tion to restrict free­dom of expres­sion and access to infor­ma­tion

    Devel­op­ments in the state media field



    Even though three years have passed since the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Belarus and the sup­pres­sion of mass protests, the repres­sions against civ­il soci­ety and the media in the coun­try have not decreased.

    This sit­u­a­tion is con­firmed by the Press Free­dom Index pub­lished by Reporters With­out Bor­ders on May 3rd. Accord­ing­ly, Belarus has dropped by four points in the rat­ing list over the recent year, hold­ing the 157th posi­tion in the list of 180 coun­tries.

    Once again, repres­sive norms were intro­duced into the law “On Mass Media” with­in the peri­od under review. It hap­pened for the sec­ond time in two years.

    The crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists con­tin­ued. The num­ber of media pro­fes­sion­als behind bars increased to 36 peo­ple at the end of July 2023. A num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions faced cen­sor­ship restric­tions, up to the actu­al ter­mi­na­tion of their activ­i­ties.

    The author­i­ties jus­ti­fied the per­se­cu­tion for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion dis­tri­b­u­tion as the fight against extrem­ism. Inde­pen­dent media were labeled as ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’, which means crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion for any inter­ac­tion with them. The media con­tent was rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’.

    Inde­pen­dent media and civ­il soci­ety respond­ed to the pres­sure and repres­sion with sol­i­dar­i­ty and mutu­al sup­port. Thus, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists orga­nized a Marathon of Sol­i­dar­i­ty with the jour­nal­ists in prison.

    Also, the BAJ took part in “We care!” online char­i­ty marathon in sup­port of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, which was con­duct­ed by influ­en­tial inde­pen­dent media and blog­gers on July 29, 2023. The orga­niz­ers man­aged to raise dona­tions that exceed­ed EUR 574,000 dur­ing the event.

    Changes in the Law on Reg­u­la­tion of Mass Media Activ­i­ty

    On July 1, 2023, Lukashen­ka approved amend­ments to Law No. 274–3 “On Mass Media”, which would come into force in three months. They fur­ther restrict the press activ­i­ties. The author­i­ties claim that, alleged­ly, the amend­ments are nec­es­sary for “an ade­quate response to destruc­tive process­es in the media field.” In par­tic­u­lar,

    ·       the pos­si­bil­i­ty of apply­ing retal­ia­to­ry mea­sures against for­eign media has been estab­lished. The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion has received the right to pro­hib­it the activ­i­ties of for­eign media and their jour­nal­ists in Belarus on the basis of updates from the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs, that includes the intro­duc­tion of bans on the media con­tent dis­sem­i­na­tion through oth­er media and the Inter­net;

    ·       the require­ments for news aggre­ga­tors have been trans­ferred to the law from the cor­re­spond­ing decree. Among oth­er things, they pro­vide for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of dis­abling access to the news aggre­ga­tors in case they dis­sem­i­nate media con­tent from the blocked Web-resources;

    ·       the list of grounds for can­cel­ing state reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cates of mass media, as well as restrict­ing access to Web-resources, online pub­li­ca­tions, and news aggre­ga­tors has been expand­ed. Among oth­er things, it includes pub­li­ca­tion of unreg­is­tered TV and radio broad­cast­ing media pro­duc­tion;

    ·       deci­sions to restrict access to news Web-sites can be made with­in six months from the date the grounds arise; they may spec­i­fy the peri­od, dur­ing which access to the cor­re­spond­ing media can­not be restored.

    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists

    Four sen­tences were pro­nounced on crim­i­nal cas­es with­in the peri­od under review. Con­se­quent­ly, jour­nal­ists were sent to prison for the terms of 4 – 7 years.

    On May 30, 2023, Homiel Region­al Court announced the ver­dict to Yauhien Merkis, a local free­lance jour­nal­ist and his­to­ri­an. He was sen­tenced to 4 years in prison in a strict regime colony under Art. 361–4 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus (‘assis­tance to extrem­ist activ­i­ties’), as well as Art. 361–1 (‘par­tic­i­pa­tion in an extrem­ist for­ma­tion’). The exact cir­cum­stances of the case are unknown since the tri­al was held behind closed doors.

    A polit­i­cal pris­on­er Andrei Famin was sen­tenced to sev­en years in a strict regime colony on June 21, 2023. He had been arrest­ed in Octo­ber 2022 and, con­se­quent­ly, he con­fessed that he was the edi­tor and author of arti­cles for a net­work of ‘Ves­ni­ki’ civ­il protest news­pa­pers, pub­lished and dis­trib­uted by activists of local ini­tia­tives. He was pre­sent­ed charges under three arti­cles of Belarus Crim­i­nal Code, name­ly, Art. 361 (‘calls to sanc­tions’), Art. 342 (‘par­tic­i­pa­tion in actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order’), and Art. 361–1 (‘estab­lish­ment of an extrem­ist for­ma­tion’).

    Pavel Pad­abed, a jour­nal­ist from Min­sk, who coop­er­at­ed with a num­ber of inde­pen­dent media, was accused of being part of an extrem­ist for­ma­tion (Art. 361–1 of Belarus Crim­i­nal Code). On June 30, 2023, he was sen­tenced to four years of impris­on­ment.

    On July 26, 2023, Hrod­na Region­al Court sen­tenced a jour­nal­ist Pavel Mazhei­ka and an attor­ney Yulia Yurhile­vich to six years of impris­on­ment in the strict and com­mon regime colonies, respec­tive­ly. They were found guilty of facil­i­tat­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties repeat­ed­ly (Arti­cle 361–4 of Belarus Crim­i­nal Code). The court estab­lished that Pavel Mazhei­ka post­ed infor­ma­tion on Bel­sat TV chan­nel, which he had received from Yulia Yurgile­vich, about her res­ig­na­tion from the bar of attor­neys and about the ver­dict against the artist Ales Pushkin.

    A new crim­i­nal case was filed against Tat­siana Pyt­sko, the wife of a cam­era­man Viachaslau Laza­rau. (The lat­ter was already in pre-tri­al cus­tody at the moment of his spouse’s deten­tion on June 6, 2023.) Tat­siana Pyt­sko was charged under Arti­cle 361–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘estab­lish­ment or par­tic­i­pa­tion in an extrem­ist for­ma­tion’) in con­nec­tion with her alleged col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Bel­sat TV chan­nel. Tat­siana and Vyachaslau’s daugh­ter, who was a year and a month old at the time of her mother’s deten­tion, was placed under the care of the state and sent to a chil­dren’s hos­pi­tal.

    Anoth­er crim­i­nal case was filed against a free­lance jour­nal­ist Ihar Kar­ney with­in the peri­od under review. He was detained and sent to a pre-tri­al cus­tody in Min­sk on July 17, 2023. The charges against the arrest­ed free­lance reporter remain unknown since his lawyer signed a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment.

    A court ver­dict was passed in a crim­i­nal case against well-known blog­gers and edi­tors of the ‘Nex­ta’ and ‘Belarus Brain’ Telegram chan­nels on May 3, 2023. The case con­sid­er­a­tion began in Feb­ru­ary 2023. It was held in the order of spe­cial pro­ceed­ings in rela­tion to Stsi­a­pan Put­si­la and Yan Rudzik, who are cur­rent­ly out­side Belarus. Con­se­quent­ly, Stsi­a­pan Put­si­la was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison, Yan Rudzik – to 19 years in prison, and Raman Prata­se­vich – to 8 years of impris­on­ment in a strict regime colony.

    The court claimed that the defen­dants were direct­ly involved in orga­niz­ing mass riots, which were accom­pa­nied by arson, pogroms, road traf­fic block­ing, as well as delib­er­ate incite­ment of social hatred and calls for ter­ror­ist acts dur­ing the 2020 elec­tion cam­paign. Since these resources were rec­og­nized by the author­i­ties as ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’, their man­age­ment entailed addi­tion­al charges.

    The court stip­u­lat­ed a short­er term of impris­on­ment for Raman Prata­se­vich, since he ‘ful­filled uncon­di­tion­al­ly the terms of the deal with the inves­ti­ga­tion.’ The court left the pre­vi­ous mea­sure of restraint in the form of house arrest for Raman Prata­se­vich until the ver­dict entered into force. On May 22, 2023, it became known that he had been par­doned by Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka.

    Oth­er pres­sure on jour­nal­ists and media

    12 cas­es of deten­tion of media work­ers were reg­is­tered in Belarus in May – July 2023. Jour­nal­ists were pun­ished on admin­is­tra­tive charges in the form of arrest (6 cas­es), fines (5 cas­es), and oth­er forms of pres­sure with­in the peri­od under review.

    Thus, two police­men came to the apart­ment of Homiel jour­nal­ist Ana­tol Hatouchyts to find out if he was sub­scribed to extrem­ist Telegram chan­nels in the evening on May 23, 2023.

    Since 2020, this was already the sixth vis­it by the police. Four of them were accom­pa­nied by search­es and seizure of tech­ni­cal equip­ment.

    The impris­oned jour­nal­ists were sub­ject­ed to pres­sure and inhu­man treat­ment in the penal colonies.

    Thus, Mikalai Klimovich, a blog­ger from Pin­sk, 69, died in Viteb­sk Colony No. 3 on May 7, 2023. At the end of Feb­ru­ary 2023, he was sen­tenced to one year in prison on charges of «insult­ing the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus.» He had a seri­ous heart con­di­tion, which was known to the court.

    A blog­ger Uladz­imir Tsy­hanovich was detained in June 2020. He spent almost three years in jail serv­ing the ini­tial prison term, when the judge con­vict­ed him sup­ple­men­tary under Arti­cle 411 of the Crim­i­nal Code for ‘mali­cious dis­obe­di­ence to the require­ments of the colony admin­is­tra­tion’ on April 10, 2023. Con­se­quent­ly, one more year was added to the ini­tial­ly pro­nounced ver­dict of 15 years in prison.

    On July 18, 2023, it became known that a jour­nal­ist Dzia­n­is Ivashyn had been trans­ferred from the colony to a strict regime prison by a court deci­sion. Nei­ther the journalist’s rel­a­tives nor his lawyer was aware of the tri­al or its cir­cum­stances.

    The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of GUBAZIK (Main Direc­torate for Com­bat­ing Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion of the Min­istry of Inte­ri­or of the Repub­lic of Belarus) detained nine employ­ees of ‘Ranak’ pri­vate TV and radio com­pa­ny in Svet­la­horsk, Homiel region on June 9, 2023.

    The com­pa­ny pub­lished news and issued the ‘Ranak-Plus’ news­pa­per. Also, it dealt with adver­tis­ing. Police pro­to­cols were drawn up against the detainees for the alleged dis­tri­b­u­tion of ‘extrem­ist’ mate­ri­als. The court sen­tenced the men to 7 days of admin­is­tra­tive arrest and imposed fines on the women. The offi­cial rea­son for the admin­is­tra­tive per­se­cu­tion was the com­pa­ny employ­ees’ sub­scrip­tion to a group in the ‘Odnok­lass­ni­ki’ social media. How­ev­er, it is most like­ly that the TV company’s cov­er­age of the acci­dent at the Svet­la­horsk Pulp and Card­board Mill, which occurred on June 7, 2023, and led to the death of three fac­to­ry work­ers, was most like­ly the real motive of these repres­sive actions.

    As soon as the employ­ees were detained, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion blocked access to the chan­nel’s web­site. On July 4, 2023, it was rec­og­nized as «extrem­ist mate­ri­als.» In fact, it looked like a case of ruin­ing just anoth­er inde­pen­dent media that had exist­ed for twen­ty years.

    The media that con­tin­ued to oper­ate in Belarus were sub­ject­ed to cen­sor­ship and oth­er forms of restric­tions. Thus, fol­low­ing the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion deci­sion, pub­lic access was blocked to a num­ber of region­al Web-resources, includ­ing Intex-press.by, newgrodno.by, brestnote.by, as well as the IT-indus­try news Web-site Dev.by, and a sport peri­od­i­cal ‘Press­ball’.

    A sim­i­lar deci­sion was tak­en by the Min­istry in rela­tion to Kamunikat.org that is the largest online library of Belaru­sian lit­er­a­ture nowa­days.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus issued warn­ings to ‘Our TV’ chan­nel from Vit­sieb­sk, the founders of the ‘Bel­MuzTV’ and ‘Europa Plus’ TV pro­grams. Pro­pa­gan­da Telegram chan­nels report­ed that in the lat­ter case, the TV chan­nel was “pun­ished” for pre­sent­ing Larysa Hry­balo­va live. The lat­ter used to be includ­ed in the unof­fi­cial list of 80 “banned” per­form­ers, who were the Belaru­sian cul­tur­al fig­ures who spoke out against vio­lence in 2020.

    On June 16, 2023, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus can­celled the cer­tifi­cate of state reg­is­tra­tion of ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ news­pa­per due to the fact that its print­ed ver­sion had not been pub­lished for six months in a row, due to the impos­si­bil­i­ty of get­ting it print­ed either in Belarus or in Rus­sia.

    The use of anti-extrem­ist leg­is­la­tion to restrict free­dom of expres­sion and access to infor­ma­tion

    The Belaru­sian author­i­ties con­tin­ued to label inde­pen­dent media resources as ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’ with­in the peri­od under review. Thus, ‘Rud­abel­skaya Pakazukha’, a high­ly pop­u­lar media project, led by a blog­ger-pranker Andrey Pavuk appeared on the list along­side the MOST info por­tal and its pages on social media, as well as the projects and per­son­al social media accounts, run by a jour­nal­ist from Hrod­na Rus­lan Kule­vich, the ‘Mir­ror’ (‘Zerka­lo’) web­site and online plat­forms of the Mir­ror Web-resource. A new phe­nom­e­non was the emer­gence of for­eign media among extrem­ist groups. These are the pages on Telegram, YouTube and Tik­Tok, which are main­tained by a pop­u­lar Ukrain­ian blog­ger Ali­ak­san­dr Rykau (Bal­aganOff). He pays con­sid­er­able atten­tion to Belaru­sian issues in his videos).

    The list of “extrem­ist mate­ri­als” was con­stant­ly updat­ed through inde­pen­dent Inter­net resources and their accounts in social net­works (‘Nasha Niva’ online pub­li­ca­tion, Radio Unet, Sol­i­dar­i­ty news­pa­per, etc.).

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion also added the BAJ web­site, its social media, and logo to the list of extrem­ist mate­ri­als at the request of Min­sk Pros­e­cu­tor’s Office for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: “Mem­bers of this asso­ci­a­tion reg­u­lar­ly pub­lished destruc­tive mate­ri­als on their own web­site and oth­er resources on the Inter­net, includ­ing accounts on the social media – Insta­gram, Face­book, Twit­ter, and the Telegram mes­sen­ger. These resources pur­pose­ful­ly con­tributed to the for­ma­tion of sources of threats to nation­al secu­ri­ty, incite­ment of social hatred and dis­cord through the dis­sem­i­na­tion of false or delib­er­ate­ly dis­tort­ed infor­ma­tion.

    The Russ­ian government’s watch­dog ‘Roskom­nad­zor’ banned access to a num­ber of Russ­ian, Belaru­sian, and Ukrain­ian web­sites on the grounds of mil­i­tary cen­sor­ship, includ­ing the BAJ web­site and the ‘Flag­stock’ online news Web-resource with­in the peri­od under review.

    A num­ber of con­vict­ed jour­nal­ists were includ­ed by the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs in the list of cit­i­zens «involved in extrem­ist activ­i­ties.» It includes sports man­ag­er Dzmit­ry Navosha, Dzmit­ry Sem­chanka, Andrey Pachobut, and Henadz Mazhei­ka.

    The KGB, in turn, updat­ed the list of per­sons «asso­ci­at­ed with ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties» by includ­ing a jour­nal­ist Henadz Mazhei­ka and direc­tor of «Belorusy i Rynok» news­pa­per Kanstantsin Zalatykh into the list.

    Since the begin­ning of 2023, there has been a sharp increase in the num­ber of tri­als on admin­is­tra­tive charges for the dis­tri­b­u­tion of “extrem­ist mate­ri­als” (Arti­cle 19.11 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es). In the first half of the year, it increased by 1.7 times com­pared to the same peri­od in 2022 (721 cas­es against 1274 cas­es). Accord­ing to human rights activists, after the mas­sive pros­e­cu­tion for par­tic­i­pat­ing in the 2020 protests, the num­ber of admin­is­tra­tive cas­es relat­ed to it has sig­nif­i­cant­ly decreased. Con­se­quent­ly, the infa­mous title of the «peo­ple’s» arti­cle has been trans­ferred to the arti­cle about «extrem­ist mate­ri­als». Since almost all lead­ing infor­ma­tion resources have become «banned» with­out regard to the time lim­its of pub­li­ca­tion, almost every­one can be held liable under Arti­cle 19.11.

    Devel­op­ments in the state media field

    “Purges” con­tin­ued among state-owned media work­ers. On May 5, 2023, employ­ees of the Homiel Plus radio sta­tion, edi­tor-in-chief Siarhei Krasnaboro­da, radio hosts Zhan­na Min­i­na and Anas­ta­sia Gryt­sen­ka, as well as sound engi­neer Artem Vasilk­ou, were detained direct­ly at their work­places. They were sub­ject­ed to admin­is­tra­tive arrest for up to 15 days for dis­trib­ut­ing extrem­ist mate­ri­als (Arti­cle 19.11 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es).

    In ear­ly June 2022, Yana Tsehla, the writer and jour­nal­ist of ‘Litaratu­ra i Mas­tats­va’ news­pa­per, was fired from her job “for absen­teeism” — this is how the edi­tors inter­pret­ed the two months she spent in a pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter (she was sen­tenced to two years of “home chem­istry” for par­tic­i­pat­ing in protests against Arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code). Since she worked in a news­pa­per for dis­tri­b­u­tion after high school, she must pay the state more than 3.5 thou­sand rubles.


    Reporters With­out Bor­ders released the 2023 Press Free­dom Index, which mea­sures the work­ing con­di­tions of jour­nal­ists around the globe. Accord­ing­ly, Belarus has dropped by four points in the rat­ing list over the recent year, hold­ing the 157th posi­tion in the list of 180 coun­tries. It is locat­ed among 31 coun­tries rat­ed as ‘very poor’ for press free­dom, between Pales­tine and Nicaragua. The com­pil­ers of the Index note the neg­a­tive impact of the war in Ukraine on media free­dom, which con­tributed to the ‘cleans­ing’ of the media land­scape in Rus­sia and Belarus dur­ing 2022.

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