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  • E‑newsletter mass media in Belarus: January-April 2024

    Sit­u­a­tion in belarus mass media field: jan­u­ary-april 2024, review. Down­load PDF.

    The active appli­ca­tion of all pre­vi­ous­ly noticed forms of per­se­cu­tion was reg­is­tered dur­ing the peri­od under review:

    - crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and blog­gers (incl. in absen­tia),

    - pres­sure on jour­nal­ists (deten­tions, arrests, fines),

    - cen­sor­ship with the use of admin­is­tra­tive mea­sures.

    The Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus ini­ti­at­ed the appli­ca­tion of restric­tive mea­sures in rela­tion to the media of Latvia, Lithua­nia, and Esto­nia in response to the blocked access to a range of Belaru­sian state-owned media in these coun­tries.

    The gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ties of Rus­sia and Belarus agreed to cre­ate the Union State’s media com­pa­ny to pro­mote a com­mon ide­o­log­i­cal agen­da, fol­low­ing the ini­tia­tive that had been pre­vi­ous­ly announced by Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka.

    Criminal prosecution

    4 jour­nal­ists were con­vict­ed in crim­i­nal cas­es dur­ing the peri­od under review.

    Ali­ak­san­dr Ziank­ou, a pho­tog­ra­ph­er from Barysau (Min­sk region) was sen­tenced to three years in prison under Arti­cle 361–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘par­tic­i­pa­tion in an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion’) on Jan­u­ary 30, 2024. Alleged­ly, his pho­tos were shown on one of the Web-resources rec­og­nized as an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion.

    On March 18, 2024, Pavel Marinich, the head of «Malan­ka Media» as well as four oth­er indi­vid­u­als involved in the case, were sen­tenced in absen­tia to 4 years of impris­on­ment, alleged­ly, for ‘ille­gal actions to dis­rupt the Nation­al ref­er­en­dum in 2022’ (Arti­cle 191 of the Crim­i­nal Code).

    Andrei Tolchyn, a for­mer free­lance jour­nal­ist from Homiel was sen­tenced to 2 years and 6 months in prison on two crim­i­nal charges, for the alleged ‘slan­der­ing of the pres­i­dent’ and ‘facil­i­tat­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties’ on March 21, 2024

    A free­lance jour­nal­ist Ihar Kar­ney was con­vict­ed after a court tri­al in Min­sk for the alleged ‘par­tic­i­pa­tion in an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion’ (which appeared to be the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists) and sen­tenced to three years in prison on March 22, 2024.

    In Jan­u­ary-March 2024, crim­i­nal cas­es were filed against 7 Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists. 5 of them reside out­side of Belarus.

    In par­tic­u­lar, crim­i­nal cas­es were filed against the pre­vi­ous­ly arrest­ed jour­nal­ists Ales Sabaleus­ki and Yauhien Hlushk­ou from Mahilou with charges under Arti­cle 361–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘cre­at­ing an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion or tak­ing part in it’) in con­nec­tion with their coop­er­a­tion with the 6tv.by region­al media in the past. The media out­let was labeled as an ‘extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion’ by the regime in pow­er.

    The rest of the crim­i­nal cas­es were filed in accor­dance with spe­cial pro­ceed­ings, i.e., in absen­tia. Thus, a ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ employ­ee Siarhei Dubavets was charged with vio­lat­ing the law on coun­ter­ing extrem­ism, reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism and the denial of geno­cide of the Belaru­sian peo­ple under six arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code.

    Anoth­er ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ employ­ee Yury Drakakhrust and a jour­nal­ist Han­na Liubako­va were enlist­ed by the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus among 20 Belaru­sian experts and polit­i­cal sci­en­tists who were accused of the alleged ‘active par­tic­i­pa­tion in the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of the con­cept of destruc­tive activ­i­ties aimed at harm­ing the nation­al secu­ri­ty of Belarus and con­tri­bu­tion to the incite­ment of social hos­til­i­ty and hatred in the soci­ety.’

    Also, crim­i­nal cas­es were filed against Uladz­imir Khilmanovich, a jour­nal­ist and human rights defend­er from Hrod­na, and Ihar Kazmi­ar­chak, the edi­tor of orsha.eu inde­pen­dent web­site under Arti­cle 361–4 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘facil­i­tat­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties’). The lat­ter was addi­tion­al­ly accused of insult­ing the pres­i­dent.

    Other forms of pressure on journalists and mass media

    5 cas­es of arbi­trary deten­tion of jour­nal­ists and 4 cas­es of admin­is­tra­tive arrest of media work­ers were reg­is­tered dur­ing the first quar­ter of 2024.

    The prac­tice of con­vict­ing the exiled jour­nal­ists for the alleged admin­is­tra­tive offens­es in absen­tia con­tin­ued with­ing the peri­od under review. Thus, Ale­na Shabunia, asso­ci­at­ed with Bel­sat TV chan­nel, was fined 2,800 Belaru­sian rubles in Vit­seb­sk. Accord­ing to the mailed pro­to­cols, she was charged with the ‘dis­sem­i­na­tion of extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ (Arti­cle 19.11 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es).

    As part of polit­i­cal purges, Natalia Zhuk­ouskaya, the pre­sen­ter of Alfa Radio broad­cast­er, which is part of the ‘SB. Belarus Today’ state-owned hold­ing com­pa­ny, and Dzmit­ry Kulik­ous­ki, the Alfa Radio sound engi­neer were detained for sup­port­ing post-elec­tion protests on Feb­ru­ary 19, 2024. Both were most prob­a­bly fired after­wards.


    The application of ‘anti-extremist legislation’ to restrict freedom of expression

    As before, the author­i­ties restrict­ed access to infor­ma­tion from inde­pen­dent sources, apply­ing the leg­is­la­tion to com­bat extrem­ism. 7 media projects were rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’ with­in the peri­od under review, includ­ing ‘Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja’, locat­ed in Bia­lystok (Poland), ‘DW Belarus (Ger­man Wave Belarus)’, ‘UDF – Belarus News’, ‘This is Min­sk, baby’ (includ­ing blog­ger Usi­aslau Pashkevich’s (aka ‘Tuteyshy Shli­akht­sich’) accounts on social media, ZnadNiemna.pl Web-site of the Union of Poles in Belarus Pub­lic Asso­ci­a­tion, which is not rec­og­nized by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties, as well as ‘Why are you lying?’ project, which deals with the analy­sis of state pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques.

    On April 4, 2024, the Oper­a­tions and Analy­sis Cen­ter under the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus pub­lished an order that pro­vid­ed for can­cel­la­tion of domain names of Web-resources includ­ed in the Nation­al List of Extrem­ist Mate­ri­als. The nation­al domain zone admin­is­tra­tor was autho­rized to imple­ment the order. 

    Reform.by and Media-Polesye.by were among the first media out­lets affect­ed by the new legal pro­vi­sions.

    ‘The First from Pin­sk’ (‘Pier­shy Pin­s­ki’) and stolin.by region­al Web-sites, a new Web-site of ‘Brest­skaya Gaze­ta’, ‘Ref­or­ma­tion – Reform.by’ News Web-site, the ana­lyst Siarhei Chaly’s and the jour­nal­ist Kat­siary­na Pytleva’s social media con­tent, the ‘Misha Gyp­synkov’ Tik­Tok account, owned by a blog­ger and humorist Mikhail Tsy­hank­ou as well as a range of oth­er media resources were labeled by the state author­i­ties as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ with­in the peri­od under review.

    On Feb­ru­ary 13, 2024, the con­tent of ‘BAJ. Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists’ Telegram chan­nel was labeled by the regime in pow­er as ‘extrem­ist con­tent’. A sim­i­lar ‘extrem­ist’ label­ing affect­ed the baj.media pages on Tik­Tok social media on March 18, 2024.

    The ‘Cur­rent Time’ media project with its 6 top­i­cal edi­to­ri­als as well as two arti­cles under the head­ings ‘Our Pushkin’ and ‘A Broth­er­ly Nation as Can­non Fod­der’, pub­lished on ‘Die Tageszeitung’ newspaper’s Web-site (Ger­many) were includ­ed in the Nation­al List of Extrem­ist Mate­ri­als with­in the report­ing peri­od.

    Blocking access to online resources

    As part of the applied cen­sor­ship poli­cies, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion kept tak­ing deci­sions on block­ing access to online resources. Thus, the Web­site of ‘Bureau Media’ inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism media project – buromedia.io was blocked for pub­lic access in approx­i­mate­ly 30 min­utes after post­ing a pub­li­ca­tion about the Belaru­sian Red Cross on its pages. 

    Web-users’ access to ‘My Brest’ region­al news Web-resource www.mybrest.by  was restrict­ed sub­ject to the ‘revealed’ vio­la­tion of mass media law, due to the pres­ence of a hyper­link to the alleged­ly ‘extrem­ist’ belsat.eu Web-site in their online pub­li­ca­tion that was post­ed back in 2017. 

    The “Belaru­sian N‑corpus” Web-resource with a col­lec­tion of texts in mod­ern Belaru­sian lan­guage and ref­er­ences to Web­sites in Belaru­sian was affect­ed by polit­i­cal cen­sor­ship, too. The pub­lic access to its Web-pages was restored in near­ly half a year since their block­ing. How­ev­er, the resumed ver­sion lacked near­ly 90% of the orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished texts, includ­ing the pub­li­ca­tions of inde­pen­dent Belaru­sian mass media there. The revived data­base of Web-resources cur­rent­ly includes the state-owned online media, name­ly the ‘BelTA’ News Agency, the ‘Zvi­az­da’ news­pa­per, and the Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashenka’s offi­cial Web-site. 

    Even adver­tis­ing pub­li­ca­tions were sub­ject­ed to cen­sor­ship with­in the peri­od under review. Thus, fol­low­ing a wave of insults and accu­sa­tions in pro-gov­ern­men­tal Telegram chan­nels, the ‘Mila’ chain of stores was forced to delete their post on Insta­gram with a ref­er­ence to a famous pre­sen­ter Yauhien Per­lin, who quit from his job at the Belaru­sian state TV com­pa­ny after the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2020. 

    Events in the state media sector

    The ide­ol­o­giza­tion of state media activ­i­ties con­tin­ued with­in the frame­work of the Union State of Belarus and Rus­sia with­in the peri­od under review. Thus, it was planned to cre­ate and pro­mote com­mon media nar­ra­tives. In par­tic­u­lar, a res­o­lu­tion on found­ing the Union State’s media com­pa­ny was signed at a meet­ing of the Supreme State Coun­cil of the Union State of Belarus and Rus­sia in St. Peters­burg on Jan­u­ary 29, 2024. Its idea had been artic­u­lat­ed by Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka repeat­ed­ly for sev­er­al years in a row.

    Accord­ing to Mak­sut Sha­dayev, Russia’s Min­is­ter of Dig­i­tal Devel­op­ment, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the media hold­ing will embrace the cur­rent­ly exist­ing two week­ly news­pa­pers – ‘Soyuz­noe Veche’ and ‘Soyuz. Belarus – Rus­sia’ as well as the Union State’s TV and Radio Com­pa­ny first of all. The media out­lets are sup­posed to ensure the imple­men­ta­tion of ‘the uni­fied and coor­di­nat­ed media pol­i­cy’.

    One bil­lion Russ­ian rubles (about 11 mil­lion USD) will be allo­cat­ed for the launch of the media hold­ing from the bud­get of the Union State. Its head­quar­ters will be based out of Moscow, and its rep­re­sen­ta­tive office will be locat­ed in Min­sk. It is planned to estab­lish a ‘resource hub’ with­in the hold­ing, which will cre­ate con­tent for dis­tri­b­u­tion through elec­tron­ic media. 

    The cre­ation of media hold­ings in the form of joint edi­to­r­i­al offices of local state news­pa­pers con­tin­ued in Belarus, too.

    Thus, dur­ing the meet­ing of Brest Region­al Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee on Jan­u­ary 25, 2024, it was announced that three such news­rooms would be cre­at­ed in the region.

    Tat­siana Hahako­va, the head of the Main Depart­ment of Ide­o­log­i­cal Work and Youth Affairs at Brest Region­al Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee not­ed dur­ing the meet­ing that ‘work in the Web-space is task #1 for mod­ern mass media’. There­fore, blog­gers were recruit­ed to work in the edi­to­r­i­al offices of two media out­lets in the region. The Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion Uladz­imir Piart­sou attend­ed the meet­ing in Brest. He not­ed in his speech that Belarus had devel­oped ‘an effec­tive sys­tem of pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion.’ How­ev­er, accord­ing to him, “it needs sharp­en­ing and refor­mat­ting in some places that has been com­plet­ed by 97% in Brest region.”

    Pro­pa­gan­da activ­i­ties of state-owned media led to the intro­duc­tion of addi­tion­al restric­tive mea­sures with­in the peri­od under review.

    In April 2024, it was report­ed that the sus­pen­sion of the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio company’s mem­ber­ship in the Euro­pean Broad­cast­ing Union (EBU) would be indef­i­nite until the sit­u­a­tion improve­ment in the future. It was ini­tial­ly set from May 2021 to July 2024. And it was moti­vat­ed by the lack of objec­tiv­i­ty, free­dom and inde­pen­dence of the press, the con­tin­u­ous wave of repres­sion against jour­nal­ists as well as the broad­cast­ing of so-called «repen­tant» videos, equat­ed to tor­ture.


    In March 2024, the Lat­vian Nation­al Coun­cil for Elec­tron­ic Media (NEPLP) took a deci­sion to ban access to the web­sites of the state-owned ANT TV chan­nel (ont.by) and the ‘SB. Belarus today’ (sb.by) media hold­ing for being relat­ed to the dis­sem­i­na­tion of aggres­sive Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da and hate speech.

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus respond­ed with a state­ment, blam­ing the Lat­vian author­i­ties of ‘imper­mis­si­ble actions aimed at lim­it­ing free­dom of speech and pur­pose­ful­ly depriv­ing the Lat­vian cit­i­zens of their right to receive com­plete and unbi­ased infor­ma­tion.’ 

    On April 8, 2024, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus issued a noti­fi­ca­tion that restrict­ed pub­lic access to a num­ber of mass media from Latvia, Lithua­nia, and Esto­nia on the ter­ri­to­ry of Belarus in response to the pre­vi­ous­ly intro­duced ban on the activ­i­ties of cer­tain Belaru­sian media out­lets in these coun­tries. The list of affect­ed for­eign media wasn’t pro­vid­ed by the Belaru­sian gov­ern­men­tal agency at that.   

    Against the back­ground of inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus start­ed to apply the mech­a­nism of their cir­cum­ven­tion, refer­ring to the law that had been adopt­ed in 2023. The legal act allows the use of objects of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty with­out get­ting the con­sent of their copy­right hold­ers if the lat­ter are includ­ed in the list of legal enti­ties from the so-called «unfriend­ly» coun­tries. The Inter­na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion of Foot­ball Asso­ci­a­tions (FIFA) and the Union of Euro­pean Foot­ball Asso­ci­a­tions (UEFA) were includ­ed in this list by the min­is­te­r­i­al decrees of Feb­ru­ary 14th and Feb­ru­ary 19th respec­tive­ly. Con­se­quent­ly, it became pos­si­ble to broad­cast inter­na­tion­al foot­ball cham­pi­onships in Belarus with­out obtain­ing the appro­pri­ate per­mis­sions from the non-res­i­dent copy­right hold­ers.

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