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  • MASS MEDIA IN BELARUS. E‑NEWSLETTER No.2 (64) 2021. Persecution of journalists in 2021

    The situation in Belarusian mass media field has critically aggravated since the time of Presidential election a year ago.



    Gen­er­al infor­ma­tion

    The sit­u­a­tion in Belaru­sian mass media field has crit­i­cal­ly aggra­vat­ed since the time of Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion a year ago.

    The media and jour­nal­ists have faced the unprece­dent­ed wave of repres­sion. Jour­nal­ists were detained more than 500 times by the law enforce­ment agen­cies after the elec­tion day More than 130 col­leagues were sen­tenced to dif­fer­ent terms of arrest on admin­is­tra­tive charges. 68 col­leagues faced vio­lence or were injured.

    More than 60 media rep­re­sen­ta­tives are under crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. 29 of them are in cus­tody (as of Octo­ber 03, 2021) or in places of impris­on­ment.

    Dozens of legal enti­ties that enabled oper­a­tion of mass media orga­ni­za­tions have been liq­ui­dat­ed or are in the process of liq­ui­da­tion.

    The info pro­duc­tion of mass media, Web-sites, and blog­gers is round­ly rec­og­nized as extrem­ist with the pro­hi­bi­tion of its dis­tri­b­u­tion by oth­er sub­jects in the media field.

    More than 140 search­es and inspec­tions were con­duct­ed in the offices of the major­i­ty of inde­pen­dent nation­al and region­al media orga­ni­za­tions as well as at the apart­ments of their offi­cers. They were accom­pa­nied by the seizure of tech­ni­cal equip­ment, doc­u­ments, and mon­ey.

    The offi­cial author­i­ties restrict­ed access to more than 100 socio-polit­i­cal Web-sites and online media. The major­i­ty of nation­al and region­al news­pa­pers were forced to sus­pend their pro­duc­tion in the print for­mat. How­ev­er, they con­tin­ued to oper­ate online.

    The sup­port­ing media orga­ni­za­tions suf­fered from per­se­cu­tion, too. The author­i­ties deprived more than 270 civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions of their legal sta­tus, includ­ing the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists and the Belaru­sian PEN Cen­ter, led by Noble lau­re­ate Svi­at­lana Alek­sievich. The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Press Club Belarus were sub­ject­ed to crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. The orga­ni­za­tion was also liq­ui­dat­ed.

    The pres­sure on mass media and their employ­ees con­tin­ues and increas­es.  


    Persecution of journalists (January – September 2021)

    The trend of restrict­ing the jour­nal­ists’ rights and tough­en­ing the con­di­tions of their work start­ed after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in August 2020. It con­tin­ued in the year of 2021. Repres­sions against inde­pen­dent media work­ers were mas­sive and increased par­tic­u­lar­ly since July 2021. As a result of this trend, quite a few jour­nal­ists couldn’t con­tin­ue their work in Belarus. Con­se­quent­ly, they had to leave the coun­try.

    The direc­tions of pres­sure on jour­nal­ists were as fol­lows:

    • deten­tions and fines for pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty;

    • aggra­va­tion of legal con­di­tions for jour­nal­ists’ work;

    • mass search­es and deten­tions in con­nec­tion to crim­i­nal cas­es;

    • crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and oth­er media work­ers;

    • hin­der­ing the activ­i­ty of Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ) and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions that sup­port jour­nal­ists and mass media.


    Detentions and fines in connection to professional activity

    The work of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists in Belarus was accom­pa­nied by deten­tions, seizure of pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment and infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers as well as admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion.

    101 cas­es of deten­tion were reg­is­tered by the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists since the begin­ning of 2021 till the end of Sep­tem­ber 2021. The duly accred­it­ed for­eign jour­nal­ists were among the detained media work­ers — Nicholas Con­nol­ly (Ger­many) and Luzia Tschirky (Switzer­land).

    The jour­nal­ists were most often fined on arti­cle 23.5 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es (pre­vi­ous­ly known as arti­cle 22.9 of the Code) for the alleged coop­er­a­tion with for­eign mass media with­out accred­i­ta­tion. This kind or pros­e­cu­tion was reg­is­tered in 32 cas­es. Thus, a jour­nal­ist from Mahilou Ali­na Skrabuno­va was fined 10 times, Zmit­si­er Lupach from Hly­bokaye was fined 7 times.

    17 times inde­pen­dent reporters were brought to respon­si­bil­i­ty for their work on the ground of arti­cle 24.23 of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es for the alleged par­tic­i­pa­tion in the unau­tho­rized mass events. Thus, the author­i­ties equal­ized par­tic­i­pa­tion in mass events with their cov­er­age by pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ists. As a rule, the judges issued their rul­ings, sole­ly ground­ing them on the tes­ti­mo­ny of law enforce­ment agents, whose names were changed and faces hid­den.

    More­over, jour­nal­ists were tried on the basis of arti­cles of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es: 24.3 (dis­obe­di­ence to a law­ful order or demand of an offi­cial in the exer­cise of his/her offi­cial pow­ers), 19.1 (pet­ty hooli­gan­ism) and 19.11 (dis­tri­b­u­tion, pro­duc­tion, stor­age, trans­porta­tion of infor­ma­tion prod­ucts con­tain­ing calls for extrem­ist activ­i­ties or pro­mot­ing such activ­i­ties).

    In 23 cas­es, the jour­nal­ists were pun­ished with dif­fer­ent terms of admin­is­tra­tive arrest, which they served in harsh con­di­tions in over­crowd­ed cam­eras with­out suf­fi­cient sleep­ing places and hygien­ic items etc.




    Aggravation of legal conditions for journalist work

    The inter­fer­ence in the jour­nal­ists’ work by law enforce­ment agen­cies was accom­pa­nied by the tight­en­ing of legal reg­u­la­tion of mass media and jour­nal­ists’ activ­i­ties.

    On April 2, 2021, there was adopt­ed a large pack­age of amend­ments to the laws, which enshrined extra­or­di­nary mea­sures for any kind of protest activ­i­ties, as a rule, referred to as ‘extrem­ist activ­i­ties.’ In fact, these mea­sures had already been tak­en with­out any legal grounds. The amend­ments to the Law ‘On Mass Media’ and ‘On Mass Events in the Repub­lic of Belarus’ aggra­vat­ed the con­di­tions of jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ties most of all.

    In par­tic­u­lar, there was imposed a ban on the pub­li­ca­tion of the results of unof­fi­cial opin­ion polls con­cern­ing the socio-polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, ref­er­en­dums and elec­tions. Also, there was intro­duced a ban on cov­er­age of pub­lic events until they were autho­rized by the author­i­ties.

    In prac­tice, this means the impos­si­bil­i­ty of broad­cast­ing live from unau­tho­rized pub­lic events and con­duct­ing street polls on polit­i­cal top­ics.

    More­over, the amend­ments made ille­gal the col­lec­tion of infor­ma­tion by jour­nal­ists ‘in the inter­ests of the third par­ty, includ­ing a legal enti­ty, that doesn’t have the sta­tus of the edi­to­r­i­al office of some media out­let.

    Thus, jour­nal­ists have been deprived of the right to com­bine work in sev­er­al media if he or she is an employ­ee of one of them.

    For the first time, there were intro­duced grounds to the law “On Mass Media” for depriv­ing a jour­nal­ist of accred­i­ta­tion, such as vio­la­tion of the accred­i­ta­tion pro­ce­dure, dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion that does not cor­re­spond to real­i­ty, and com­mit­ting any ille­gal actions.



    Mass searches and detentions

    Since July 8, 2021, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties began to car­ry out coor­di­nat­ed mass repres­sions against inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and media. In fact, they were aimed at destroy­ing the inde­pen­dent media sec­tor.

    This activ­i­ty took place with­in the frame­work of the so-called spe­cial oper­a­tion to iden­ti­fy the par­tic­i­pants in “destruc­tive chats”.

    Kanstantsin Bychek, Deputy Head of the Inves­tiga­tive Depart­ment of the KGB of Belarus com­ment­ed on the activ­i­ty as fol­lows:

    “A large-scale oper­a­tion is being held at the present moment of time to clean up the rad­i­cal­ly mind­ed peo­ple. Urgent inves­tiga­tive actions and oth­er pro­ce­dur­al activ­i­ties are being car­ried out, includ­ing search­es and deten­tions. The involve­ment of each par­tic­i­pant in the imple­men­ta­tion of crim­i­nal acts will be ver­i­fied.”


    71 search­es were con­duct­ed at jour­nal­ists’ apart­ments and edi­to­r­i­al offices of inde­pen­dent mass media by the police and KGB rep­re­sen­ta­tives all over the coun­try on July 8–9, 2021.

    In most cas­es, they were ground­ed upon the need of inves­ti­ga­tion of crim­i­nal cas­es, in par­tic­u­lar, on arti­cle 289 (act of ter­ror­ism) and arti­cle 342 (orga­ni­za­tion and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order, or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them). Pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment, infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion devices were seized dur­ing the search­es. At least 14 jour­nal­ists were detained and inter­ro­gat­ed. Yahor Martsi­novich, the ‘Nasha Niva’ online publication’s Edi­tor-in-chief was beat­en cru­el­ly and injured in the head.

    The sec­ond mass attack on inde­pen­dent mass media took place on July 16, 2021.

    Search­es and deten­tions took place in the Bel­sat TV stu­dio and the office of Radio Lib­er­ty in Min­sk as well as at pri­vate apart­ments of at least 26 inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. Five jour­nal­ists were detained for the term of up to ten days. A jour­nal­ist of Radio Lib­er­ty Ines­sa Studzin­skaya was on a hunger strike through­out the peri­od of her deten­tion.





    Criminal prosecution

    The unprece­dent­ed scale of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion was among the most seri­ous chal­lenges faced by inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists in Belarus.

    The crim­i­nal­iza­tion of inde­pen­dent media work­ers’ activ­i­ty includ­ed bring­ing them to legal respon­si­bil­i­ty for the cov­er­age of events in the coun­try as well as for the alleged com­mis­sion of eco­nom­ic crimes. As of Octo­ber 3, 2021, 29 jour­nal­ists and oth­er media work­ers were kept in cus­tody in con­nec­tion to their crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

    Since the begin­ning of 2021, 4 jour­nal­ists have been con­vict­ed on crim­i­nal charges.

    A jour­nal­ist of TUT.by Web-por­tal Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich was sen­tenced to six months in jail on March 2, 2021. She was put on tri­al togeth­er with the doc­tor Art­siom Sarokin, who was fined and sen­tenced to the sus­pend­ed term of two years in jail. Both of them were tried for the alleged dis­clo­sure of med­ical secrets that entailed grave con­se­quences (arti­cle 178, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code).

    The jour­nal­ist pub­lished infor­ma­tion about the death of a peace­ful pro­tes­tor Raman Ban­daren­ka, who was beat­en cru­el­ly by peo­ple in masks and deliv­ered to a police depart­ment in the unmarked van. The per­son died in hos­pi­tal after­wards. The pub­li­ca­tion con­tra­dict­ed to the offi­cial ver­sion of his death. Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vuch was released from jail on May 18, 2021.




    On Feb­ru­ary 18, 2021, two jour­nal­ists of Bel­sat TV chan­nel Kat­siary­na Andreye­va and Darya Chultso­va were sen­tenced to two years of impris­on­ment for the alleged ‘arrange­ment of actions that gross­ly vio­lat­ed pub­lic order’ (arti­cle 342, part 1 of Belarus Crim­i­nal Code). The jour­nal­ists were pros­e­cut­ed for live broad­cast­ing of bru­tal dis­per­sal of peace­ful demon­stra­tors who came to pay trib­ute to the mem­o­ry of Raman Ban­daren­ka at the place of his death in the court­yard of a res­i­den­tial build­ing on Novem­ber 15, 2020. The female jour­nal­ists are serv­ing their sen­tences in the wom­en’s colony in Homiel.



    On August 2, 2021, Ivana­va Dis­trict Court in Brest region sen­tenced Siarhei Hardziye­vich, a cor­re­spon­dent of www.1reg.by news Web-site from the town of Drahichyn to 18 months of impris­on­ment.

    The jour­nal­ist was charged under three arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code: arti­cle 368 (insult to the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus), arti­cle 188 (defama­tion), and arti­cle 369 (insult to a gov­ern­ment offi­cial) for the alleged­ly pub­lished mes­sages in a local chat on Viber.

    The court ordered Hardziye­vich to pay 2,000 rubles (about 800 US dol­lars) to each of the two police offi­cers who con­sid­ered them­selves insult­ed as com­pen­sa­tion for moral dam­age. The jour­nal­ist was tak­en into cus­tody in the court­room fol­low­ing the announce­ment of the ver­dict. He had spent more than 4 months under house arrest before the sit­ting of the court.



    A blog­ger and the ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ con­sul­tant Ihar Losik has been on tri­al since June 24, 2021. He was arrest­ed more than a year ago.

    The media work­er is charged under two arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code: arti­cle 293 (par­tic­i­pa­tion in mass dis­or­ders) and arti­cle 342 (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them).




    On Decem­ber 22, 2020, the Finan­cial Inves­ti­ga­tion Depart­ment offi­cers arrest­ed a num­ber of Press Club Belarus employ­ees: Yulia Slut­skaya, the Press Club Belarus founder and Board mem­ber of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists, Alla Sharko, the Press Club Belarus Pro­gram Direc­tor, Siarhei Alsheus­ki the Finan­cial Direc­tor, Pyotr Slut­sky, a video­g­ra­ph­er (son of Yulia Slut­skaya), Siarhei Yaku­pau, the Direc­tor of Press Club Acad­e­my, as well as for­mer employ­ees of the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Com­pa­ny Kseniya Lut­ski­na and Dzia­n­is Sakalous­ki.

    It is known that the Press Club Acad­e­my arranged a hackathon of media projects, aimed at pro­mo­tion of free­dom of speech and that the Kseniya Lutskina’s project was among the win­ners.

    On Decem­ber 31, 2020, the detainees were charged with com­mit­ting a crime under arti­cle 243, part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code (large-scale tax eva­sion). A Russ­ian cit­i­zen Siarhei Yaku­pau was deport­ed to Rus­sia on the same day. Yulia Slut­skaya and her col­leagues spent eight months in Pre-tri­al Deten­tion Cen­ter No. 1 in Min­sk in extreme­ly hard con­di­tions.

    All the accused peo­ple on the Press Club case were released after sign­ing a peti­tion for clemen­cy in August 2021 with the excep­tion of Kseniya Lut­ski­na, who refused to sign the plea.The Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al’s Office of the Repub­lic of Belarus announced the ter­mi­na­tion of pro­ceed­ings. Kseniya Lut­ski­na, suf­fer­ing from a grow­ing tumor in the brain, remained in cus­tody. A new crim­i­nal case was filed against her. (The essence of new charges remain unknown due to the fact that her lawyer had to sign a non-dis­clo­sure note).






    A media man­ag­er and founder of www.journalby.com on-line peri­od­i­cal edi­tion Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau as well as his part­ner Iry­na Zlobi­na have been held in cus­tody since Jan­u­ary 12, 2021.

    Con­se­quent­ly, both of them were charged with “fund­ing the per­sons involved in riots and oth­er protests” under arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of events that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them).

    Short­ly before the expi­ra­tion of the max­i­mum pos­si­ble pre-tri­al deten­tion term, Ali­ak­san­dr was charged with high trea­son (arti­cle 356 of the Crim­i­nal Code). He can face up to 15 years in prison on these charges.

    Fol­low­ing the arrest of Ali­ak­san­drau’s for­mer col­leagues at the Bela­PAN News Agency, he was also rec­og­nized as a sus­pect under arti­cle 243 of the Crim­i­nal Code (tax and dues eva­sion) on August 31, 2021.





    Dzia­n­is Ivashyn, an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist was arrest­ed on March 12, 2021 in Hrod­na as a sus­pect in a crim­i­nal case under arti­cle 365 of the Crim­i­nal Code (inter­fer­ence in the activ­i­ties of the inter­nal affairs offi­cer), which pro­vides for a max­i­mum sen­tence of three years in jail. D. Ivashyn worked for ‘Novy Chas’ news­pa­per at that time. He was also the author and edi­tor of Belaru­sian ser­vice of Inform­Na­palm Web-site.

    His last arti­cle in ‘Novy Chas’ was about for­mer employ­ees of the ‘Berkut’ spe­cial forces (Ukraine), alleged­ly involved in vio­lent actions against peace­ful demon­stra­tors in Kiev in 2014, who got a job in the Belaru­sian police. (The arti­cle was writ­ten with the use of data from open sources).



    A jour­nal­ist of Pol­ish ori­gin Andrzej Poc­zobut from Hrod­na, an employ­ee of the Pol­ish ‘Gaze­ta Wybor­cza’ dai­ly, as well as ‘Nad Niem­nem’ news­pa­per is charged under arti­cle 130, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code (incite­ment to racial, eth­nic, reli­gious or oth­er social hos­til­i­ty or hatred). He faces 5 to 12 years in jail.

    The jour­nal­ist was arrest­ed along­side with sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers of the Union of Poles in Belarus on March 25, 2021. He suf­fered from COVID-19 in deten­tion.

    Accord­ing to the offi­cial ver­sion, since 2018 they have held a series of ille­gal events with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of minors in Hrod­na and oth­er cities in the region «in hon­or of the par­tic­i­pants of anti-Sovi­et ban­dit for­ma­tions who act­ed dur­ing and after the Great Patri­ot­ic War, who com­mit­ted rob­beries, mur­ders of civil­ian pop­u­la­tion of Belarus, and destruc­tion of prop­er­ty.» It should be not­ed that these actions on the part of offi­cial author­i­ties fol­lowed the dis­sem­i­na­tion of anti-Pol­ish pro­pa­gan­da on the state tele­vi­sion. Poland was described as an aggres­sor, alleged­ly hav­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims against the Repub­lic of Belarus in the pro­pa­gan­dist nar­ra­tive.



    On May 18, 2021, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties launched an unprece­dent­ed attack on the lead­ing inde­pen­dent infor­ma­tion resource TUT.by. The Finan­cial Inves­ti­ga­tion Depart­ment of Belarus filed a crim­i­nal case against its employ­ees under arti­cle 243, part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code for the alleged tax eva­sion that caused large-scale dam­ages.

    13 rep­re­sen­ta­tives of TUT.by and relat­ed com­pa­nies were tak­en to cus­tody:

    Mary­na Zolata­va, Edi­tor-in-chief;

    Lud­mi­la Chek­ina, Gen­er­al Direc­tor;

    Anzhela Asa, Chief Accoun­tant;

    Iry­na Rybal­ka, Deputy Direc­tor;

    Ala Lap­at­ka, Chief Engi­neer;

    Vol­ha Loy­ka, Edi­tor;

    Ale­na Talk­a­cho­va, Jour­nal­ist;

    Maryia Novik, Deputy Chief Accoun­tant;

    Ali­ak­san­dr Daine­ka, Gen­er­al Direc­tor on Tech­ni­cal Issues;

    Andrei Audzieyeu, Man­ag­er;

    Siarhei Paval­ishau, Direc­tor, Hoster.by (released from cus­tody on Sep­tem­ber 1, but remains under inves­ti­ga­tion);

    Darya Danila­va, Gen­er­al Direc­tor, Rock­et­Da­ta; Kat­siary­na Tkachen­ka (house arrest);

    Iry­na Kastiuchen­ka, a for­mer lawyer (house arrest).




    On May 23, 2021, a blog­ger Raman Pratasievich was arrest­ed as a result of the forced land­ing of a pas­sen­ger jet, fly­ing from Athens to Vil­nius, by Belaru­sian author­i­ties. His girl­friend Safiya Sapieha, a cit­i­zen of Rus­sia, was detained togeth­er with him. The alleged explo­sion threat was named as a pre­text for land­ing the plane. The BelTA state news agency report­ed that Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka per­son­al­ly gave the order to land the plane in Min­sk and approved the use of the MiG-29 fight­er to facil­i­tate the land­ing.

    Raman Pratasievich used to be the Edi­tor-in-chief of NEXTA Telegram Chan­nel that played an impor­tant role for the cit­i­zens of Belarus dur­ing the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2020. At the time of his arrest, he was work­ing for anoth­er oppo­si­tion Telegram chan­nel, named ‘Belarus of Head Brain’, which had been pre­vi­ous­ly edit­ed by a blog­ger Ihar Losik.

    Since 2019, Raman Pratasievich lived in Poland and Lithua­nia, sub­ject to secu­ri­ty threats in Belarus, since the Belaru­sian author­i­ties stat­ed that he had par­tic­i­pat­ed in ‘Lukashen­ka. Crim­i­nal Mate­ri­als’ doc­u­men­tary film pro­duc­tion, which was pre­sent­ed on the NEXTA YouTube chan­nel.

    In Novem­ber 2020, the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus brought charges against him in con­nec­tion with the events around the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions on August 9, 2020. In par­tic­u­lar, he was accused of orga­niz­ing mass riots and group actions that gross­ly vio­lat­ed pub­lic order (arti­cles 293 and 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus). Also, he was charged with “incite­ment of social enmi­ty on the basis of pro­fes­sion­al affil­i­a­tion” in rela­tion to civ­il ser­vants and law enforce­ment offi­cers through the Telegram chan­nels, which were cre­at­ed and man­aged by him (arti­cle 130, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code). He was put on the inter­na­tion­al want­ed list.

    KGB includ­ed him into the List of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als, deal­ing with ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties then.

    Fol­low­ing the deten­tion, Raman Pratasievich was tak­en to the pre-tri­al iso­la­tion cen­ter. On June 14, 2021, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs arranged a brief­ing with the blog­ger, where he announced his vol­un­tary coop­er­a­tion with the legal inves­ti­ga­tion bod­ies.

    At the end of June 2021, Raman Pratasievich and Safiya Sapieha were trans­ferred to house arrest. He appeared on TV and Twit­ter on numer­ous occa­sions, show­ing remorse for his pre­vi­ous activ­i­ties.

    The arrest of the blog­ger as a result of the forced land­ing of a for­eign jet by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties caused an extreme­ly wide response in the world, includ­ing the reac­tion of the UN Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al.

    On May 24, 2021, the EU lead­er­ship decid­ed to increase the sanc­tions pres­sure on the Belaru­sian regime, ordered to pro­hib­it the Belaru­sian air­lines from using the EU air space and urged the EU air car­ri­ers to avoid using the air­space of Belarus.












    Yahor Martsi­novich, the ‘Nasha Niva’ online daily’s Edi­tor-in-chief and Andrei Skurko, the Head of ‘Nasha Niva’ Adver­tis­ing and Mar­ket­ing Depart­ment were detained on July 8, 2021. Both of them were pre­sent­ed crim­i­nal charges for the alleged ‘prop­er­ty dam­age with­out signs of embez­zle­ment’ in accor­dance with arti­cle 216, part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus.

    Alleged­ly they paid util­i­ty bills for the office at the rate for hous­ing.




    On July 9, 2021, Tribuna.by sports jour­nal­ist Ali­ak­san­dr Ivulin was charged with arrang­ing and prepar­ing actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them under part 1 of arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code. He had already served a 30-day admin­is­tra­tive arrest for the alleged pre­sen­ta­tion of a white-red-white ban­ner in his win­dow by that moment of time.



    Valeryia Kast­si­uho­va, a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist and edi­tor of ‘Belaru­sian Year­book’ was detained on June 30, 2021. She was pre­sent­ed charges of con­spir­a­cy to seize pow­er (part 1 of arti­cle 357 of the Crim­i­nal Code) and fos­ter­ing calls for the seizure of pow­er (part 6 of arti­cle 16 and part 3 of arti­cle 361 of the Crim­i­nal Code). Her arrest was pre­ced­ed by her speech on the air of ‘Euro­pean Radio for Belarus’, where she answered ques­tions whether it is pos­si­ble to achieve the release of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers with sanc­tions and whether a split with the West would pro­voke a rapid deep­en­ing of inte­gra­tion between Belarus and Rus­sia.



    Iry­na Leushy­na, the Direc­tor of inde­pen­dent Bela­PAN News Agency and its for­mer Direc­tor Dzmit­ry Navazhy­lau were arrest­ed on August 18, 2021. They were pre­sent­ed charges on arti­cle 243 part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus (tax eva­sion that caused large-scale dam­ages).




    Hindering the Activity of Belarusian Association of Journalists

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ) is a pub­lic asso­ci­a­tion that has been oper­at­ing since 1995. It has more than 1300 mem­bers all over Belarus. Its activ­i­ty includes pro­mo­tion of free­dom of speech and ideas of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism, mon­i­tor­ing of vio­la­tions of jour­nal­ists’ rights and help­ing the vic­tims of these vio­la­tions in Belarus.

    In con­nec­tion to the rapid­ly aggra­vat­ed sit­u­a­tion with free­dom of speech in Belarus since the begin­ning of Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign 2020, the legit­i­mate activ­i­ty of BAJ on jour­nal­ists’ rights defense was ham­pered by the unlaw­ful inter­fer­ence of offi­cial author­i­ties.

    The BAJ Web-site (www.baj.by) was blocked in the first group of Web-resources on the elec­tion day. The mobile hot­line num­ber for jour­nal­ists was blocked as well.

    The Web-site couldn’t be accessed by Belaru­sian Web-users with­in the peri­od since August 9 till August 27, 2021, despite the absence of any for­mal deci­sions on restrict­ing access to the Web-resource.

    On Feb­ru­ary 16, 2021, the police con­duct­ed a search at the BAJ office in Min­sk and seized doc­u­ments and com­put­er equip­ment. Con­se­quent­ly, the office premis­es were sealed. Also, police search­es were con­duct­ed at sev­er­al BAJ mem­bers’ pri­vate apart­ments and hous­es in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try, includ­ing the apart­ments of BAJ Deputy Chairs Barys Haret­s­ki and Aleh Aheyeu.

    The offi­cers of Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus explained that the oper­a­tion was car­ried out with­in the frame­work of a pre­lim­i­nary inves­ti­ga­tion into the financ­ing or arrange­ment of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order under arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus.

    The BAJ office was sealed for almost a month after the search, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of its lead­er­ship were sum­moned to the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee for inter­ro­ga­tion on sev­er­al occa­sions.

    On June 21, 2021, the Min­istry of Jus­tice start­ed to inspect the activ­i­ties of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists. Accord­ing to the let­ter that was received on that day thou­sands of doc­u­ments were required to be sub­mit­ted for the peri­od since Jan­u­ary 1, 2018. It is note­wor­thy that the let­ter was dat­ed June 9, 2021, but on June 21, 2021 only, i. e. on the last date when the numer­ous doc­u­ments were asked to be sub­mit­ted. The Min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tive post­poned the dead­line till June 23, 2021. The BAJ rep­re­sen­ta­tives sub­mit­ted to the Min­istry of Jus­tice all the request­ed doc­u­ments, which they man­aged to col­lect.

    On July 14, 2021, the law enforce­ment bod­ies con­duct­ed anoth­er search at the BAJ office in Min­sk and sealed the premis­es once again. (The sec­ond search was per­formed in the absence of BAJ rep­re­sen­ta­tives.) The BAJ bank account was blocked. On the fol­low­ing day, a let­ter from the Min­istry of Jus­tice was received stat­ing that the Deputy Min­is­ter Siarhei Kali­nous­ki issued a warn­ing to the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists in the writ­ten form on July 8, 2021. He claimed that some doc­u­ments were not pro­vid­ed and the lease agree­ments of sev­er­al BAJ branch­es had to be cor­rect­ed.

    It was required to elim­i­nate the vio­la­tions indi­cat­ed in the warn­ing with­in one day, i.e. by July 16, 2021. The BAJ lead­er­ship sent a let­ter to the Min­istry of Jus­tice with a request to post­pone the dead­line due to the lack of access to statu­to­ry doc­u­ments, the seal and lease agree­ments sub­ject to the fact that the BAJ office was sealed after the search.

    How­ev­er, on July 21, 2021, it became known that the Min­istry of Jus­tice had filed a claim with the Supreme Court of Belarus on liq­ui­da­tion of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists in con­nec­tion with the BAJ’s alleged fail­ure to take mea­sures to elim­i­nate vio­la­tions of the law and the repeat­ed vio­la­tion of the law after the receipt of offi­cial warn­ing in the writ­ten form.

    Inesa Laza­viko­va, the judge of the Supreme Court of Belarus sat­is­fied the claim of the Min­istry of Jus­tice to liq­ui­date the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists on August 27, 2021. It hap­pened against the back­ground of a large-scale attack on the inde­pen­dent press and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions in Belarus that had tak­en place since July 2021. The major­i­ty of BAJ offi­cers had to leave the coun­try, in order to be able to con­tin­ue their work.


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