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  • Monitoring Report 2021

    Belarusian Association of Journalists 

    Mass Media in Belarus 2021. Download PDF






    Crim­i­nal cas­es

    The Case of Siarhei Sat­suk

    The Case of Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich

    The Case of Kat­siary­na Andreye­va (Bakhvala­va) and Darya Chultso­va

    The Case of ‘Press Club’

    The Case of Siarhei Hardziye­vich

    The Case of Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau

    The Case of Dzia­n­is Ivashyn

    The Case of Andrzej Poc­zobut

    The Case of TUT.by

    The Case of Valeryia Kast­si­uho­va

    The Case of Ali­ak­san­dr Ivulin

    The Case of ‘Nasha Niva’

    The Case of Bela­PAN News Agency

    The Case of Henadzi Mazhey­ka

    The Case of Andrei Kukharchyk

    The Case of Iry­na Slau­nika­va

    The Case of Andrei Kuzniechyk

    The Case of Aleh Hruzdzilovich

    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of blog­gers

    Oth­er sig­nif­i­cant court cas­es

    Pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists

    Deten­tion and admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists

    Mass search­es and seizure of pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment

    Obstruc­tion of activ­i­ty of Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists

    Restric­tions on free­dom of activ­i­ty on the Web

    Pres­sure on online media

    Imple­men­ta­tion of leg­is­la­tion on coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism

    Obstruc­tion of print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of inde­pen­dent news­pa­pers

    Repres­sion against the print press rep­re­sen­ta­tives

    Pros­e­cu­tion of inde­pen­dent press dis­trib­u­tors

    Vio­la­tions relat­ed to access to infor­ma­tion

    Restric­tion of access to infor­ma­tion

    Obsta­cles to for­eign media activ­i­ties

    The state media sec­tor activ­i­ties



    Despite the harsh sup­pres­sion of peace­ful protests after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2020 and the offi­cial­ly declared ‘sta­bi­liza­tion’ of inter­nal sit­u­a­tion in Belarus, the pres­sure on inde­pen­dent media and civ­il soci­ety became more intense in the coun­try in 2021. The repres­sions against non-state jour­nal­ists and media became sys­temic. And they were aimed at the actu­al destruc­tion of inde­pen­dent media sec­tor in Belarus.

    Con­se­quent­ly, a lot of inde­pen­dent media out­lets were forced to take a deci­sion on relo­ca­tion and con­tin­u­a­tion of their activ­i­ty from abroad. At the same time, they remain a part of the uni­fied media sec­tor of Belarus.

    Also, the activ­i­ties of Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ) in defense of jour­nal­ists’ rights were ham­pered by the pres­sure on the part of offi­cial author­i­ties. In Feb­ru­ary and July 2021, the BAJ office in Min­sk and the apart­ments of its employ­ees were searched. The search­es were accom­pa­nied by the seizure of doc­u­ments and tech­ni­cal equip­ment, the arrest of the BAJ office and bank accounts. Fol­low­ing a law­suit filed by the Min­istry of Jus­tice of Belarus, the Supreme Court of Belarus liq­ui­dat­ed the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists Pub­lic Asso­ci­a­tion in August 2021. The BAJ was liq­ui­dat­ed among sev­er­al hun­dred oth­er non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions named by the author­i­ties as a “tumor that needs to be elim­i­nat­ed”.

    Quite a few of BAJ lead­ers and employ­ees were forced to leave the coun­try for secu­ri­ty rea­sons as well as in order to con­tin­ue their activ­i­ty.



    Inter­fer­ence in the jour­nal­ists’ work by law enforce­ment agen­cies was accom­pa­nied by the tight­en­ing of legal reg­u­la­tion of mass media and jour­nal­ists’ activ­i­ty.

    A range of leg­isla­tive changes in 2021 were aimed at sim­pli­fy­ing the inter­fer­ence of the state in the jour­nal­ists’ and media work as well as at the strength­en­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for state­ments on the Web.

    The year of 2021 had a record num­ber of leg­isla­tive changes in Belarus. Quite a few of them affect­ed the media work­ers’ activ­i­ty in the coun­try.

    A new edi­tion of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offences came into force on March 1, 2021.

    The arti­cle on ‘Defama­tion’ was exclud­ed from the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es (Arti­cle 9.2 of the pre­vi­ous edi­tion). How­ev­er, defama­tion is pros­e­cut­ed crim­i­nal­ly nowa­days (Arti­cle 188 of the Crim­i­nal Code). A per­son may be found guilty of ‘spread­ing know­ing­ly false infor­ma­tion that defames anoth­er per­son in a pub­lic speech, or in a print­ed or pub­licly dis­played work, or in mass media, or in the infor­ma­tion post­ed on the glob­al com­put­er net­work of the Inter­net, or oth­er pub­lic telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work or the ded­i­cat­ed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, or con­tains an accu­sa­tion of com­mit­ting a seri­ous or par­tic­u­lar­ly seri­ous crime.’

    The max­i­mum fine for an insult (Arti­cle 10.2) increased from 20 to 30 base amounts. This arti­cle was sup­ple­ment­ed by the sec­ond part: ‘Defama­tion in a pub­lic speech, or in a print­ed or pub­licly dis­played work, or in mass media, or in a post dis­sem­i­nat­ed on the glob­al com­put­er net­work of the Inter­net, or oth­er pub­lic telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work, or ded­i­cat­ed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work entails the impo­si­tion of a fine in the amount of ten to two hun­dred base amounts, or com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, or admin­is­tra­tive arrest [for indi­vid­u­als], and the impo­si­tion of a fine in the amount of thir­ty to two hun­dred base amounts on a legal enti­ty.’

    The intro­duc­tion of the sec­ond part is explained by the dele­tion of Arti­cle 189 ‘Insult’ from the new edi­tion of the Crim­i­nal Code. The exclud­ed arti­cle pro­vid­ed for the crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment in the form of a fine, or cor­rec­tion­al labor for the term of up to two years, or arrest, or restric­tion of free­dom for the term of up to three years. Thus, a penal­ty for legal enti­ties was intro­duced (in the form of a fine). Accord­ing­ly, the edi­to­r­i­al teams of mass media and the own­ers of Inter­net resources that pub­lished offen­sive state­ments may be pros­e­cut­ed on these charges.

    Arti­cle 23.5 (vio­la­tion of media law) under­went sev­er­al changes in 2021. Fines were reduced for ille­gal restric­tion of free­dom of mass infor­ma­tion, vio­la­tion of the spec­i­fied pro­ce­dure for the manda­to­ry send­ing of free copies of peri­od­i­cals, as well as ‘ille­gal pro­duc­tion and (or) dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts.’ (It is accord­ing to this legal norm that since 2014 free­lance jour­nal­ists who coop­er­ate with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tion have been fined).

    The lia­bil­i­ty for vio­la­tion of the spec­i­fied pro­ce­dure for dis­tri­b­u­tion of erot­ic pub­li­ca­tions and the pro­ce­dure for pub­lish­ing a rebut­tal by mass media was exclud­ed from the law. The third part of the arti­cle, which envis­aged respon­si­bil­i­ty for ‘vio­la­tion of mass media law by a media out­let repeat­ed­ly with­in one year after the issuance of a writ­ten warn­ing against it’, was exclud­ed from the law as well.

    Arti­cle 23.7 (vio­la­tion of per­son­al data pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion) defined lia­bil­i­ty in the form of fines for ille­gal col­lec­tion, pro­cess­ing, stor­age or trans­fer of per­son­al data. A per­son who learned the per­son­al data in con­nec­tion with his / her pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty and col­lect­ed it ille­gal­ly may be fined four to one hun­dred base amounts. Delib­er­ate ille­gal dis­tri­b­u­tion of per­son­al data entails the impo­si­tion of a fine of up to two hun­dred base amounts.

    Arti­cle 24.23 (vio­la­tion of the order of orga­niz­ing or hold­ing mass events) is not direct­ly relat­ed to jour­nal­ists’ activ­i­ties. How­ev­er, it was active­ly used to pros­e­cute those of them, who cov­ered mass events in 2020.

    Con­trary to the ten­den­cy to decrease fines for indi­vid­u­als, which is observed in most oth­er arti­cles of the new edi­tion of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es, the max­i­mum fine for vio­la­tion of the spec­i­fied pro­ce­dure for hold­ing a mass event as well as for pub­lic calls to orga­nize or hold a mass event in vio­la­tion of the spec­i­fied pro­ce­dure for their arrange­ment or hold­ing was increased more than three times – from 30 to 100 base amounts and up to 200 base amounts, in case of repeat­ed pros­e­cu­tion with­in a year.

    Amend­ments to the Crim­i­nal Code were intro­duced three times in 2021. Cor­re­spond­ing laws were adopt­ed on Jan­u­ary 6, 2021, May 26, 2021, and Decem­ber 14, 2021.

    Some of them were aimed at restrict­ing free­dom of speech and crim­i­nal­iz­ing the activ­i­ties of mass media, jour­nal­ists and oth­er media agents. Such changes sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased the lia­bil­i­ty for defama­tion crimes and the expand­ed list of crimes relat­ed to the con­cept of “extrem­ism”. Prac­ti­cal­ly all arti­cles of this kind pro­vide for the pos­si­bil­i­ty to impose pun­ish­ment in the form of depri­va­tion of lib­er­ty. A per­son may be deprived of lib­er­ty regard­less of the sever­i­ty of the com­mit­ted action and the pres­ence of calls for vio­lence in some cas­es.

    Arti­cle 198–1 (vio­la­tion of mass media law) was added to the Crim­i­nal Code. It envis­ages respon­si­bil­i­ty for the own­ers of Inter­net resources, which are not reg­is­tered as mass media, for the dis­sem­i­na­tion of pro­hib­it­ed infor­ma­tion. (The list of pro­hib­it­ed infor­ma­tion is open and very long.) In case of repeat­ed vio­la­tion of the law, the Web-site own­er may be sen­tenced to impris­on­ment for the term of up to two years.

    The max­i­mum terms of impris­on­ment under Arti­cle 361 (calls for restric­tive mea­sures (sanc­tions), oth­er actions aimed at harm­ing the nation­al secu­ri­ty of the Repub­lic of Belarus) were sig­nif­i­cant­ly increased – from three to six / ten years; and up to twelve years in case of per­form­ing these actions with the use of mass media or the Inter­net.

    The new ver­sion of Arti­cle 369–3 (pub­lic calls to orga­nize or hold an ille­gal assem­bly, gath­er­ing, out­door march, ral­ly or pick­et­ing or involve­ment of indi­vid­u­als in par­tic­i­pa­tion in such mass events) increased the max­i­mum pun­ish­ment for con­duct­ing these actions, if they entailed seri­ous con­se­quences, – from three to five years of impris­on­ment.

    Severe crim­i­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty in the form of restric­tion of lib­er­ty or impris­on­ment was intro­duced in 2021 for new kinds of ille­gal actions that can fos­ter in any way the ‘extrem­ist’ activ­i­ties, includ­ing ‘cre­ation of or par­tic­i­pa­tion in an extrem­ist for­ma­tion’ (Arti­cle 361–1, up to 10 years in prison), ‘fund­ing of extrem­ist activ­i­ties’ (Arti­cle 361–2, up to 8 years in prison), and ‘facil­i­ta­tion of extrem­ist activ­i­ties’ (Arti­cle 361–4, up to 7 years in prison).These legal norms poten­tial­ly cre­ate the dan­ger of pun­ish­ment for the par­tic­i­pa­tion and financ­ing of media orga­ni­za­tions rec­og­nized as extrem­ist for­ma­tions.

    The ban on ‘dis­cred­it­ing the Repub­lic of Belarus’ envis­aged by Arti­cle 369–1 was sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand­ed in 2021. It used to refer to the trans­mis­sion of know­ing­ly false infor­ma­tion to for­eign enti­ties ear­li­er. Hence, the new ver­sion of the arti­cle defines respon­si­bil­i­ty for dis­sem­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about “polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, social, mil­i­tary or inter­na­tion­al sit­u­a­tion of the Repub­lic of Belarus, the legal sta­tus of cit­i­zens in the Repub­lic of Belarus, the activ­i­ties of gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies” to the unde­fined cir­cle of indi­vid­u­als in any pub­lic form, includ­ing the mass media, if such state­ments are aimed at caus­ing ‘sub­stan­tial dam­age to the state or pub­lic inter­ests.’ At the same time, the crim­i­nal lia­bil­i­ty under this arti­cle was increased to up to four years of impris­on­ment.

    Crim­i­nal lia­bil­i­ty for defam­a­to­ry state­ments was increased. Defama­tion (Arti­cle 188) entailed a max­i­mum penal­ty of impris­on­ment for the term of up to three years. The penal­ty for slan­der­ing the pres­i­dent (Arti­cle 367) and insult­ing the pres­i­dent (Arti­cle 368) was increased to up to six and five years in prison respec­tive­ly.

    Arti­cle 375–1 on the ille­gal col­lec­tion or receipt of infor­ma­tion con­sti­tut­ing state secrets with the pur­pose of their dis­tri­b­u­tion was includ­ed in the Crim­i­nal Code. This arti­cle pro­vides for exces­sive sanc­tions (up to five years of impris­on­ment) for the unspec­i­fied cir­cle of indi­vid­u­als, that is, includ­ing jour­nal­ists, although their pro­fes­sion­al duties are not relat­ed to the oblig­a­tion to keep such secrets con­fi­den­tial.

    On March 25, the res­o­lu­tion of the Oper­a­tional Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter under the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus, the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Informa­ti­za­tion of the Repub­lic of Belarus and the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of the Repub­lic of Belarus No. 2/6/2 was pub­lished. It intro­duced the con­cept of “a copy of a Web-resource”. Accord­ing­ly, it is ‘a Web-resource sim­i­lar to the degree of con­fu­sion with anoth­er Web-resource with the restrict­ed pub­lic access.’ The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion was grant­ed the right to send a mes­sage to the State Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Inspec­torate of the Min­istry of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions ‘to include the cor­re­spond­ing iden­ti­fi­er of the Web-resource in the list of Web-resources with restrict­ed access.’

    On May 7, the law “On the Pro­tec­tion of Per­son­al Data” was adopt­ed. Most of its pro­vi­sions came into force six months after its adop­tion, i.e., in Novem­ber 2021. The new law con­tains the def­i­n­i­tions of per­son­al data and oth­er basic con­cepts, the grounds for pro­cess­ing per­son­al data, the mech­a­nism of pros­e­cu­tion for vio­la­tion of the rules of their han­dling, etc.

    Accord­ing to Arti­cle 6, the con­sent of the sub­ject of per­son­al data to the pro­cess­ing of per­son­al data is not required, among oth­er, ‘for the pur­pos­es of car­ry­ing out a journalist’s legal pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty and (or) the activ­i­ties of a mass media and an orga­ni­za­tion that car­ries out pub­lish­ing activ­i­ties aimed at pro­tect­ing the pub­lic inter­est, which rep­re­sents the need of the soci­ety to iden­ti­fy and dis­close infor­ma­tion about threats to nation­al secu­ri­ty, pub­lic order, pub­lic health and the envi­ron­ment, infor­ma­tion that affects the per­for­mance of duties by respon­si­ble gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials and pub­lic fig­ures, except for the cas­es envis­aged by the civ­il pro­ce­dur­al law, the eco­nom­ic pro­ce­dur­al law, the crim­i­nal-pro­ce­dur­al leg­is­la­tion, as well as the leg­is­la­tion defin­ing the order of the admin­is­tra­tive process.’

    This excep­tion is pro­vid­ed only for jour­nal­ists in a nar­row inter­pre­ta­tion of the law ‘On mass media’. It does not apply to employ­ees of online resources who are not reg­is­tered as media out­lets, free­lance jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, and inves­tiga­tive report­ing activists, who are at risk of being brought to admin­is­tra­tive and crim­i­nal respon­si­bil­i­ty, espe­cial­ly tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that employ­ees of inter­nal affairs bod­ies are autho­rized to draft pro­to­cols on admin­is­tra­tive cas­es about vio­la­tions of per­son­al data pro­cess­ing rules.

    The law ‘On the Amend­ment of Laws on the Issues of Coun­ter­ac­tion to Extrem­ism’ came into force on June 16, 2021. It intro­duced changes to the Civ­il Pro­ce­dur­al Code of the Repub­lic of Belarus and to the law ‘On Coun­ter­ing Extrem­ism’.

    Arti­cle 158 part 2 of the Civ­il Pro­ce­dur­al Code of the Repub­lic of Belarus estab­lished a spe­cial dead­line of one month max­i­mum for the accel­er­at­ed con­sid­er­a­tion of cas­es on the recog­ni­tion of an orga­ni­za­tion as extrem­ist, its liq­ui­da­tion, pro­hi­bi­tion of the use of its sym­bols and para­pher­na­lia, as well as recog­ni­tion of its sym­bols and para­pher­na­lia as well as infor­ma­tion prod­ucts as extrem­ist mate­ri­als.

    The new ver­sion of the law ‘On the Issues of Coun­ter­ac­tion to Extrem­ism’ broad­ened sig­nif­i­cant­ly the notion of ‘extrem­ism’ that cre­at­ed new pos­si­bil­i­ties of per­se­cu­tion for expres­sion of opin­ion. In par­tic­u­lar, the fol­low­ing kinds of ‘extrem­ist activ­i­ty’ were includ­ed into the list:

    - insult­ing or dis­cred­it­ing pub­lic author­i­ties or gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials;

    - dis­sem­i­na­tion of know­ing­ly false infor­ma­tion about the polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, social, mil­i­tary or inter­na­tion­al state of the Repub­lic of Belarus;

    - ille­gal actions against pub­lic order and pub­lic moral­i­ty, the order of gov­ern­ment, life and health, per­son­al free­dom, hon­or and dig­ni­ty, as well as the prop­er­ty, com­mit­ted in order to incite hos­til­i­ty.

    Cer­tain def­i­n­i­tions were amend­ed in the new ver­sion of the law. Par­tic­u­lar­ly, not only the media pro­duc­tion that con­tains extrem­ist calls and pro­motes extrem­ist activ­i­ty is regard­ed as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’, but also the media pro­duc­tion that ‘fos­ters’ extrem­ist activ­i­ties and con­tains ‘extrem­ist sym­bols and attrib­ut­es’ is regard­ed as ‘extrem­ist’. More­over, there was broad­ened the list of forms, in which the ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ can exist. Thus, it was de-fac­to banned to pub­lish the por­traits of peo­ple, who had been pun­ished on the ‘extrem­ism’ charges, in mass media.

    There appeared the notion of ‘an extrem­ist for­ma­tion (group­ing)’ in the law as ‘a group of cit­i­zens that indulges in com­mit­ting extrem­ist activ­i­ties or fos­ters extrem­ist activ­i­ties or acknowl­edges the pos­si­bil­i­ty of apply­ing them in their work or finances extrem­ist activ­i­ties’. Unlike an ‘extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion’, its exis­tence is deter­mined out of court by the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs or the KGB. 


    On June 16, a new law On pre­vent­ing the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism came into force. It affect­ed the right to free­dom of speech. Sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous­ly adopt­ed law ‘On coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism’, it defines ‘reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism as pub­lic actions that are man­i­fest­ed in the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the ide­ol­o­gy (doc­trine) and prac­tice of Nazism, as well as per­sons or orga­ni­za­tions asso­ci­at­ed with Nazi crimes; approv­ing or deny­ing crimes against the peace and secu­ri­ty of human­i­ty, war crimes and oth­er crimes. Among oth­er, it was sup­ple­ment­ed by the notion of hero­iza­tion of Nazi crim­i­nals and their aides,’ i.e., their delib­er­ate glo­ri­fi­ca­tion, as well as the praise of crimes com­mit­ted by them.

    The sub­jects, deal­ing with coun­ter­ac­tion to reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism, includ­ing the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion, as well as the scope of their com­pe­tence in the field were defined by the law.

    The coor­di­na­tion of activ­i­ties to be imple­ment­ed by the spec­i­fied sub­jects was entrust­ed to the inter­nal affairs bod­ies, which are respon­si­ble for the manda­to­ry mon­i­tor­ing of the imple­men­ta­tion of cur­rent leg­is­la­tion in terms of pre­vent­ing the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism by founders and edi­tors of mass media, own­ers of Web-resources, jour­nal­ists, and authors of news reports and mate­ri­als.

    The new law pro­vides for mea­sures to counter the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism, includ­ing the issuance of offi­cial warn­ings and writs as well as sus­pen­sion, pro­hi­bi­tion of activ­i­ty, and liq­ui­da­tion of an extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion. The pro­ce­dure for apply­ing such mea­sures is deter­mined in accor­dance with the leg­is­la­tion on coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism.

    On June 19, amend­ments to the law ‘On Inter­nal Affairs Bod­ies of the Repub­lic of Belarus came into force. Accord­ing­ly, the employ­ees of inter­nal affairs bod­ies were giv­en the right to pro­hib­it cit­i­zens from tak­ing video footage and pho­tos as well as film­ing (Arti­cle 25).

    On June 26, the law On Amend­ments to the Laws on Mass Media came into force. It relat­ed to the trans­for­ma­tion of the law ‘On Mass Media’.

    The new law intro­duced addi­tion­al restric­tions on estab­lish­ment and reg­is­tra­tion of Belaru­sian and for­eign mass media as well as on dis­tri­b­u­tion of their media pro­duc­tion.

    Thus, the per­son who pre­vi­ous­ly act­ed as a mem­ber of an orga­ni­za­tion rec­og­nized as extrem­ist can­not act as the founder of a media out­let with­in five years from the date of such recog­ni­tion. Also, the per­son that act­ed as the own­er of a Web-resource or online pub­li­ca­tion, blocked for pub­lic access, fol­low­ing a cor­re­spond­ing deci­sion, can­not act as the founder of a media out­let with­in three years from the date of the deci­sion (Arti­cle 10).

    There were intro­duced new rea­sons for refusal of state reg­is­tra­tion:

    - the name of media out­let coin­cides or is sim­i­lar to the degree of con­fu­sion with the name of the mass media, which activ­i­ty has been ter­mi­nat­ed by a cor­re­spond­ing deci­sion;

    - the name of the Web-peri­od­i­cal does not match the domain name of the Web-resource (Arti­cle 15).

    The Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion can issue a writ­ten warn­ing to a media out­let for the fail­ure to present a hyper­link to the orig­i­nal source of pub­lished infor­ma­tion, if the source doesn’t stip­u­late oth­er con­di­tions for dis­trib­ut­ing the infor­ma­tion, which has been post­ed for pub­lic access (Arti­cle 49).

    The deci­sion of Inter­de­part­men­tal Com­mis­sion on Infor­ma­tion Secu­ri­ty on the pres­ence of infor­ma­tion mes­sages and (or) mate­ri­als in the for­eign mass media pro­duc­tion, which may harm the nation­al inter­ests of the Repub­lic of Belarus, if dis­sem­i­nat­ed, became a legal ground for denial to issue a per­mit for dis­tri­b­u­tion of for­eign mass media pro­duc­tion (Arti­cle 17), ter­mi­na­tion of mass media pro­duc­tion (Arti­cle 51), and restric­tion of access to the Web-resource (Arti­cle 51–1).

    If ear­li­er the mass media release could be ter­mi­nat­ed by a court deci­sion only, the amend­ments to the Mass Media Law pro­vid­ed for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of such ter­mi­na­tion of media activ­i­ty by deci­sion of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion in case of issu­ing two or more writ­ten warn­ings or by the deci­sion of Inter­de­part­men­tal Com­mis­sion on Infor­ma­tion Secu­ri­ty (Arti­cle 51).

    The list of jour­nal­ists’ respon­si­bil­i­ties was broad­ened (Arti­cle 34). Accord­ing­ly, it became inad­mis­si­ble to col­lect infor­ma­tion ‘for the ben­e­fit of a third par­ty, includ­ing a legal enti­ty that is not a media out­let’. (Thus a jour­nal­ist can­not com­bine work in sev­er­al media if he or she is an employ­ee of one of them.)

    There were intro­duced grounds for depriv­ing a jour­nal­ist of accred­i­ta­tion, such as vio­la­tion of the accred­i­ta­tion pro­ce­dure, dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion that does not cor­re­spond to real­i­ty and defames busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion of the accred­it­ing body, as well as com­mit­ting any pur­pose­ful ille­gal actions dur­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties (Arti­cle 35).

    The list of infor­ma­tion that is pro­hib­it­ed for dis­tri­b­u­tion has been broad­ened by the law (Arti­cle 38). In par­tic­u­lar, the law banned pub­li­ca­tion of results of unof­fi­cial opin­ion polls con­cern­ing the socio-polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, ref­er­en­dums and elec­tions. (In prac­tice, it means the impos­si­bil­i­ty of con­duct­ing street polls on polit­i­cal top­ics.)

    Accord­ing to the new word­ing of Arti­cle 51–1, the restric­tion of access to a Web-resource or online pub­li­ca­tion can be intro­duced for a cer­tain peri­od with­in 6 months after the occur­rence of the cor­re­spond­ing grounds. (It used to be 3 months for online pub­li­ca­tions in the past.) The pub­lic access can also be restrict­ed to any Web-resource, which resem­bles to the degree of con­fu­sion the one to which the access has already been lim­it­ed (a copy of the Web-resource).

    The Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al as well as the pros­e­cu­tors of Belaru­sian regions and the city of Min­sk have been giv­en the right to restrict access to the Web-resources and online pub­li­ca­tions that dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion aimed at pro­mot­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties or infor­ma­tion that con­tains calls for such activ­i­ties, as well as infor­ma­tion that may harm the nation­al inter­ests (Arti­cle 51–1).

    On June 26, amend­ments to the law On mass events in the Repub­lic of Belarus came into force. In par­tic­u­lar, Arti­cle 11 intro­duced a ban on real-time cov­er­age of mass events, which are held in vio­la­tion of the estab­lished order, aimed at their pro­mo­tion or pro­pa­gan­da by any­one, includ­ing jour­nal­ists. The jour­nal­ists are also pro­hib­it­ed from act­ing as orga­niz­ers or par­tic­i­pants of mass events while per­form­ing their duties.

    On Octo­ber 18, the law On amend­ing laws on pro­tec­tion of sov­er­eign­ty and con­sti­tu­tion­al order came into force. As a result of its adop­tion, the list of emer­gency mea­sures and time lim­its set by the law ‘On state of emer­gency’ was spec­i­fied.

    Thus, accord­ing to Arti­cle 11 of this law, should a state of emer­gency be intro­duced, it would be pos­si­ble:

    ● to sus­pend (ter­mi­nate) the release of mass media, the valid­i­ty of state reg­is­tra­tion cer­tifi­cates, issued to the pub­lish­ers, pro­duc­ers, and dis­trib­u­tors of print­ed pub­li­ca­tions, and the valid­i­ty of licens­es for polyg­ra­phy and broad­cast­ing activ­i­ty;

    ● to restrict access to Web-resources and online pub­li­ca­tions.

    If ear­li­er, in case of a state of emer­gency intro­duced in the pres­ence of riots, it was allowed to lim­it the free­dom of the press by intro­duc­ing pre­lim­i­nary cen­sor­ship, to seize tem­porar­i­ly or arrest the print­ed pro­duc­tion, radio trans­mit­ting, sound-ampli­fy­ing and copy­ing tech­ni­cal equip­ment, as well as to define a spe­cial pro­ce­dure for the press accred­i­ta­tion, the new ver­sion of the law allows sus­pen­sion of dis­tri­b­u­tion of Belaru­sian and for­eign media pro­duc­tion.

    On June 28, Pres­i­den­tial Decree No. 242 amend­ed the Pro­vi­sions on the Inter­de­part­men­tal Com­mis­sion on Infor­ma­tion Secu­ri­ty. The com­mis­sion was autho­rized to decide whether media prod­ucts and any Web-resources con­tain the mate­ri­als, which can ‘harm the nation­al inter­ests of the Repub­lic of Belarus,’ if dis­trib­uted.

    On August 25, the Oper­a­tional Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­ter under the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus issued Ordi­nance No. 138 ‘On the admin­is­tra­tion of nation­al domain zone’. Accord­ing­ly, the ‘Belaru­sian Cloud Tech­nolo­gies’ Joint Lim­it­ed Lia­bil­i­ty Com­pa­ny was oblig­ed to per­form the func­tion of the tech­ni­cal admin­is­tra­tor of Belaru­sian domain zone since Jan­u­ary 1, 2022. The change was caused by the per­se­cu­tion and de-fac­to liq­ui­da­tion of the lead­ing news Web-por­tal TUT.by that was linked to the pre­vi­ous tech­ni­cal admin­is­tra­tor, hoster.by. The com­pa­ny CEO Siarhei Paval­ishau was detained togeth­er with TUT.by rep­re­sen­ta­tives on May 18, 2021. He was kept in the pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter till Sep­tem­ber 1, 2021, when his remand was changed.

    The Coun­cil of Min­is­ters issued Res­o­lu­tion No. 575 ‘On Mea­sures to Counter Extrem­ism and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism’ on Octo­ber 12, 2021. Accord­ing to this doc­u­ment, all con­trol over the imple­men­ta­tion of leg­is­la­tion in this area was entrust­ed to the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs. The sub­jects of coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism and reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism were oblig­ed to send updates about their activ­i­ties at least once in half a year.

    Accord­ing to the new law On pre­vent­ing the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of Nazism’, the Res­o­lu­tion reg­u­lates the imple­men­ta­tion of the law appli­ca­tion mon­i­tor­ing (see above).

    The doc­u­ment also intro­duces Pro­vi­sions on the pro­ce­dure for eval­u­at­ing sym­bols and para­pher­na­lia as well as infor­ma­tion prod­ucts for the pres­ence (absence) of signs of extrem­ism and Pro­vi­sions on the Nation­al com­mit­tee to be estab­lished under the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion for the eval­u­a­tion of infor­ma­tion prod­ucts dis­cov­ered on the ter­ri­to­ry of Min­sk. The rel­e­vant region­al com­mit­tees were autho­rized to con­tin­ue their oper­a­tion on the ter­ri­to­ry of Belaru­sian regions. The eval­u­a­tion should be based upon a cor­re­spond­ing appeal of the state bod­ies that deal with coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism. (Pre­vi­ous­ly, any cit­i­zens and orga­ni­za­tions could apply for a check). Lil­ia Ananich, deputy chair­per­son of the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Human Rights, Nation­al Rela­tions and Mass Media at the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives head­ed the above­men­tioned Nation­al com­mit­tee.

    Accord­ing to the law ‘On the Nation­al Bud­get for 2022’, adopt­ed on Decem­ber 31, 2021, the state media will receive 151,111,118 Belaru­sian rubles (com­pared to 156.04 mil­lion rubles in 2021) to cov­er their expens­es in 2022. The state-owned print media and pub­lish­ing hous­es will receive more in 2022 (8,040,679 Belaru­sian rubles com­pared to 7,617,997 Belaru­sian rubles in 2021). The Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny will get the same fund­ing as a year before (114,655,220 Belaru­sian rubles).

    The expens­es for the ‘Mir’ TV and radio com­pa­ny will increase by almost 500,000 Belaru­sian rubles in 2022 (from 8 mil­lion to 8,482,400 Belaru­sian rubles). CJSC ‘Cap­i­tal Tele­vi­sion’ will receive 823,190 Belaru­sian rubles in 2022 (com­pared to 1.66 mil­lion Belaru­sian rubles in 2021). CJSC ‘Sec­ond Nation­al Tele­vi­sion’ (ANT) will receive 3,289,870 Belaru­sian rubles (com­pared to 3.5 mil­lion Belaru­sian rubles in 2021).

    The cov­ered expen­di­tures for the activ­i­ties of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion will amount to 23,209,342 Belaru­sian rubles in 2022, which is 6 mil­lion less than in 2021.



    Crim­i­nal cas­es

    The unprece­dent­ed scale of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion was among the most seri­ous chal­lenges faced by inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and oth­er media pro­fes­sion­als in Belarus in 2021.

    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 alleged­ly com­mit­ted eco­nom­ic crimes. As of Decem­ber 31, 2021, over 60 mass media rep­re­sen­ta­tives were crim­i­nal­ly pros­e­cut­ed in Belarus. 32 of them were kept in cus­tody in con­nec­tion to their crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion by the end of the year.


    The Case of Siarhei Sat­suk

    A famous inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and the Edi­tor of ‘Yezhed­nevnik’ online peri­od­i­cal Siarhei Sat­suk was detained on March 25, 2020.

    One of his high-pro­file inves­ti­ga­tions con­tained a series of pub­li­ca­tions in the ‘Yezhed­nevnik’ online peri­od­i­cal about cor­rup­tion in the health care sys­tem of Belarus. Sev­er­al high-rank­ing offi­cials of the Min­istry of Health were exposed for cor­rupt prac­tices lat­er on.

    On March 23, 2020, an arti­cle ‘Who is spread­ing pan­ic around the coro­n­avirus, the Pres­i­dent or Web­sites and Web-chan­nels?’ by Siarhei Sat­suk was pub­lished on the ‘Yezhed­nevnik’ (ej.by) web­site. The author ques­tioned the offi­cial sta­tis­tics on the inci­dence of coro­n­avirus in Belarus in this pub­li­ca­tion.

    The State Con­trol Com­mit­tee com­ment­ed upon the deten­tion only six days lat­er, accus­ing the jour­nal­ist of receiv­ing a large bribe ‘for prepar­ing and post­ing an arti­cle on his web­site that con­tains com­pro­mis­ing infor­ma­tion about the orga­ni­za­tion’s com­peti­tors.’

    Siarhei Satsuk’s deten­tion and the ini­ti­a­tion of a crim­i­nal case against him caused sharp crit­i­cism from the Belaru­sian and inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty. Con­se­quent­ly, the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al can­celed the deci­sion to place him in cus­tody on the 10th day after his arrest. Hence, the jour­nal­ist was released, but the crim­i­nal case against him was not ter­mi­nat­ed.

    On Decem­ber 8, 2021, Siarhei Sat­suk was detained again. He was searched and ques­tioned by the Legal Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee on the same day. The ej.by web­site was blocked at the same moment of time. Con­se­quent­ly, the jour­nal­ist was tak­en into cus­tody after his inter­ro­ga­tion on the old case under Arti­cle 430 of the Crim­i­nal Code (receiv­ing a bribe).


    The Case of Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich

    A jour­nal­ist of TUT.by Web-por­tal Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich was sen­tenced to six months of impris­on­ment on March 2, 2021. She was put on tri­al togeth­er with the doc­tor Art­siom Sarokin, who was fined and sen­tenced to the sus­pend­ed two-years’ prison term. 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 had been 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 fined on Novem­ber 19, 2020 and released from prison on May 18, 2021.

    The jour­nal­ist was pre­sent­ed the Ger­man-Nor­we­gian Free Media Awards for East­ern Euro­pean jour­nal­ists.


    The Case of Kat­siary­na Andreye­va (Bakhvala­va) and Darya Chultso­va

    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. Judge Natalia Buhuk pro­nounced the ver­dict in the Frun­zien­s­ki City Dis­trict Court of Min­sk.

    Darya Chultso­va and Kat­siary­na Andrey­va became the lau­re­ates of Courage in Jour­nal­ism Awards. It is a pres­ti­gious inter­na­tion­al jour­nal­ist award, estab­lished by the Inter­na­tion­al Wom­en’s Media Foun­da­tion (IWMF).

    Also, the jour­nal­ists were pre­sent­ed the Ger­man-Nor­we­gian Free Media Awards for East­ern Euro­pean jour­nal­ists and the Prize for the Free­dom and Future of the Media 2021, estab­lished by the Media Foun­da­tion of Sparkasse Leipzig. ‘The jury express­ly appre­ci­ates the com­mit­ment of the two young jour­nal­ists, who by their work […] made heard the voice of free report­ing in an auto­crat­ic regime”, Stephan Seeger, Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Media Foun­da­tion said.


    The Case of ‘Press Club’

    Five out of six con­vict­ed peo­ple on the Press Club case were released from cus­tody in August 2021. They were freed after sign­ing a peti­tion for clemen­cy except for Kseniya Lut­ski­na, who refused to sign the plea. Con­se­quent­ly, the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al’s Office 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 remained unknown since her lawyer had been forced to sign a non-dis­clo­sure note).

    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.

    On Decem­ber 31, 2020, the detainees were pre­sent­ed charges 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, suf­fer­ing from extreme­ly hard con­di­tions of stay.

    Yuliya Slut­skaya became the lau­re­ate of the 2021 IAPC Free­dom of Speech Award. Also, she was named 2021 IPI-IMS World Press Free­dom Hero. The award is pre­sent­ed to the jour­nal­ists, who have made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the pro­mo­tion of press free­dom, espe­cial­ly fac­ing high per­son­al risks.


    The Case of Siarhei Hardziye­vich

    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 gov­ern­men­tal offi­cial) for the alleged­ly pub­lished mes­sages in a local Viber chat.

    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 dam­ages. 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. Hardziye­vich was sent to serve his sen­tence in the penal colony in Shk­lou.


    The Case of Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau

    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.

    Both of them were pre­sent­ed charged under Arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of events that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them) for the alleged ‘fund­ing of indi­vid­u­als involved in riots and oth­er protests.’

    Short­ly before the expi­ra­tion of the max­i­mum pos­si­ble pre-tri­al deten­tion term, Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau was pre­sent­ed new charges under Arti­cle 356 of the Crim­i­nal Code (high trea­son). He can face up to 15 years of impris­on­ment 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.

    Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau was award­ed ‘The Hope of Free­dom’ Prize by the Lithuan­ian Union of Jour­nal­ists in 2021. Also, he became a lau­re­ate of Frantsishak Ali­akhnovich Lit­er­ary Award by deci­sion of Radio Lib­er­ty and Belaru­sian PEN Cen­ter for his ‘poems from behind bars’, ground­ed upon his per­son­al prison expe­ri­ence.


    The Case of Dzia­n­is Ivashyn

    An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Dzia­n­is Ivashyn was arrest­ed in Hrod­na on March 12, 2021. Con­se­quent­ly, he was pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 365 of the Crim­i­nal Code (inter­fer­ence in the inter­nal affairs officer’s activ­i­ties), which envis­age a max­i­mum sen­tence of three years in prison. 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 ded­i­cat­ed to 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 lat­er. (The arti­cle was writ­ten with the use of data from open sources).

    On Sep­tem­ber 2, 2021, the jour­nal­ist was pre­sent­ed addi­tion­al charges under Arti­cle 356 of the Crim­i­nal Code (high trea­son). He can face up to 15 years of impris­on­ment on these charges.

    Dzia­n­is Ivashyn was pre­sent­ed ‘The Jour­nal­ist of the Year 2021’ award, estab­lished by the Belaru­sian human rights defend­ers’ com­mu­ni­ty.


    The Case of Andrzej Poc­zobut

    A jour­nal­ist of Pol­ish ori­gin Andrzej Poc­zobut from Hrod­na, an employ­ee of the Pol­ish ‘Gaze­ta Wybor­cza’ dai­ly, as well as ‘Nad Niem­nem’ news­pa­per was arrest­ed along­side sev­er­al oth­er mem­bers of the Union of Poles in Belarus on March 25, 2021. He was placed in cus­tody and pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 130, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code (incite­ment to racial, eth­nic, reli­gious or oth­er social hos­til­i­ty or hatred). He faces the risk of 5 to 12 years of impris­on­ment.

    Accord­ing to the offi­cial ver­sion, since 2018 the mem­bers of the Union of Poles in Belarus 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 of offi­cial author­i­ties were held against the back­ground of anti-Pol­ish pro­pa­gan­da on the state tele­vi­sion. Poland was described as an aggres­sor in the pro­pa­gan­dist nar­ra­tive, alleged­ly hav­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al claims against the Repub­lic of Belarus.

    Andrzej Poc­zobut was award­ed the main prize “For Free­dom of Speech” of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Pol­ish Jour­nal­ists in 2021 “for pub­li­ca­tions in defense of democ­ra­cy and rule of law, which revealed mis­use of pow­er, cor­rup­tion and vio­la­tions of civ­il and human rights.” Also, the jour­nal­ist was award­ed the Pol­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Prize dur­ing the 30th edi­tion of the Eco­nom­ic Forum in Karpacz.


    The Case of TUT.by

    On May 18, 2021, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties launched an unprece­dent­ed attack on the lead­ing inde­pen­dent news resource TUT.by. (The Web-por­tal pub­lish­er ‘TUT.BY Media’ had been deprived of the mass media sta­tus by a court ver­dict on Jan­u­ary 19, 2021.) 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. Mass search­es were con­duct­ed in the TUT.BY offices in Min­sk, Brest, Vit­sieb­sk, Mahilou, and Hrod­na as well as in the offices of affil­i­at­ed com­pa­nies – Hoster.by, Av.by and Rabota.by – and in the pri­vate apart­ments of TUT.BY employ­ees on that day.

    On the same day, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus blocked pub­lic access to TUT.BY Web-site from Belarus and from abroad. The deci­sion was ground­ed on the note, issued by the Gen­er­al Pub­lic Prosecutor’s office about the alleged­ly reg­is­tered ‘numer­ous facts of vio­la­tion of Mass Media Law’. In par­tic­u­lar, it con­cerned the fact of pub­li­ca­tion of mate­ri­als, released by the BYSOL Foun­da­tion. (It is a civ­il soci­ety ini­tia­tive that deals with fundrais­ing in sup­port of vic­tims of polit­i­cal repres­sions in Belarus. The Belaru­sian leg­is­la­tion bans dis­tri­b­u­tion of mate­ri­als on behalf of non-reg­is­tered orga­ni­za­tions.)

    14 rep­re­sen­ta­tives of TUT.by and relat­ed com­pa­nies were placed in cus­tody or under house arrest:

    1. Mary­na Zolata­va, Edi­tor-in-chief;

    2. Lud­mi­la Chek­ina, Gen­er­al Direc­tor;

    3. Anzhela Asad, Chief Accoun­tant (released from cus­tody on March 11, 2022, but remains in the sta­tus of the accused in the case);

    4. Iry­na Rybal­ka, Deputy Direc­tor (released from cus­tody on March 11, 2022, but remains in the sta­tus of the accused in the case);

    5. Ala Lap­at­ka, Chief Engi­neer;

    6. Vol­ha Loy­ka, Edi­tor;

    7. Ale­na Talk­a­cho­va, Jour­nal­ist;

    8. Maryia Novik, Deputy Chief Accoun­tant (released from cus­tody on March 11, 2022, but remains in the sta­tus of the accused in the case);

    9. Ali­ak­san­dr Daine­ka, Gen­er­al Direc­tor on Tech­ni­cal Issues;

    10. Andrei Audzieyeu, Man­ag­er;

    11. Siarhei Paval­ishau, Direc­tor, Hoster.by (released from cus­tody on Sep­tem­ber 1, 2021, but remains under inves­ti­ga­tion);

    12. Darya Danila­va, Gen­er­al Direc­tor, Rock­et­Da­ta;

    13. Kat­siary­na Tkachen­ka, Lawyer (house arrest);

    14. Iry­na Kastiuchen­ka, a for­mer lawyer (house arrest).

    The TUT.BY Edi­tor-in-chief Mary­na Zolata­va became a lau­re­ate of Reporter:Innen Preis 2021, which is annu­al­ly award­ed to out­stand­ing jour­nal­ists by the Ger­man Reporters’ Forum.


    The Case of Valeryia Kast­si­uho­va

    Valeryia Kast­si­uho­va, a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist and ana­lyst, the founder of ‘Our Opin­ion’ Web-site for the Belaru­sian expert com­mu­ni­ty, the edi­tor and author of ‘Belaru­sian Year­book’ and the leader of ‘Belarus In Focus’ mon­i­tor­ing experts’ group was detained after a search in her pri­vate apart­ment, con­duct­ed by the KGB rep­re­sen­ta­tives, on June 30, 2021. She was pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 357 of the Crim­i­nal Code (con­spir­a­cy to seize pow­er by uncon­sti­tu­tion­al means) and Arti­cle 361 of the Crim­i­nal Code (calls for actions aimed at caus­ing harm to the nation­al secu­ri­ty of the Repub­lic of Belarus).

    Her arrest was pre­ced­ed by her speech on Euro­ra­dio, where she answered ques­tions about whether it would be pos­si­ble to achieve the release of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers through sanc­tions and whether a split with the West would pro­voke a rapid deep­en­ing of inte­gra­tion between Belarus and Rus­sia.


    The Case of Ali­ak­san­dr Ivulin

    Ali­ak­san­dr Ivulin, a sports jour­nal­ist of Tribuna.com Web-site and ‘Chest­nOK’ Youtube chan­nel founder was arrest­ed on July 3, 2021. He was pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 342, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them). Judge Siarhei Shat­si­la sen­tenced him to two years of impris­on­ment on Jan­u­ary 19, 2022.


    The Case of ‘Nasha Niva’

    Pub­lic access to the ‘Nasha Niva’ Web-site (nn.by) was total­ly blocked on July 8, 2021, fol­low­ing the cor­re­spon­dent rul­ing, issued by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus. The deci­sion was ground­ed on the note, issued by the Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor General’s office, that reg­is­tered the alleged ‘pub­li­ca­tion of infor­ma­tion that is banned for dis­tri­b­u­tion by Arti­cle 38, part 1 of Mass Media law.’ Con­se­quent­ly, police search­es were con­duct­ed at the office premis­es and pri­vate apart­ments of four ‘Nasha Niva’ employ­ees. Two of them, Yahor Martsi­novich, the ‘Nasha Niva’ Edi­tor-in-chief and Andrei Skurko, the Head of ‘Nasha Niva’ Adver­tis­ing and Mar­ket­ing Depart­ment were detained and placed in cus­tody on July 8, 2021. They were pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 216, part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code for the alleged ‘prop­er­ty dam­age with­out signs of embez­zle­ment’. Alleged­ly, they paid util­i­ty bills for the edi­to­r­i­al office at the rate for hous­ing. Judge Anzhela Kast­siuke­vich sen­tenced both of them for the term of 2.5 years of impris­on­ment. The tri­al took place in the Zavad­s­ki City Dis­trict Court of Min­sk on March 15, 2022.

    Andrei Skurko became a lau­re­ate of Frantsishak Ali­akhnovich Lit­er­ary Award by deci­sion of Radio Lib­er­ty and Belaru­sian PEN Cen­ter for his fairy tales and poems for his son. The award is pre­sent­ed to authors for their lit­er­ary accom­plish­ments, ground­ed upon per­son­al prison expe­ri­ence.


    The Case of Bela­PAN News Agency

    On August 18, 2021, there were con­duct­ed search­es at the office premis­es of inde­pen­dent Bela­PAN News Agency as well as at the Bela­PAN employ­ees’ pri­vate apart­ments in Min­sk. The search­es were con­duct­ed as part of a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion on Arti­cle 342 of Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment or prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them).

    The Bela­PAN Web-sites (belapan.by and belapan.com) were total­ly blocked for pub­lic access. Six Bela­PAN employ­ees were inter­ro­gat­ed at the Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee. On the same day in the evening the Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee pub­lished a state­ment that showed the alleged vio­la­tions of tax leg­is­la­tion, which were dis­cov­ered dur­ing the ini­ti­at­ed tax audit of Bela­PAN activ­i­ty. The Bela­PAN Direc­tor Iry­na Leushy­na and the for­mer Direc­tor Dzmit­ry Navazhy­lau were tak­en into cus­tody as sus­pects on the crim­i­nal case, ground­ed on Arti­cle 243 part 2 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘tax eva­sion’).


    On Novem­ber 18, 2021, it became known that both jour­nal­ists were also pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 361–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (estab­lish­ment of an extrem­ist group­ing), for which they face up to 7 years of impris­on­ment. The pre­sen­ta­tion of charges was pre­ced­ed by the recog­ni­tion of “a group of Belaru­sian cit­i­zens from among the employ­ees of the Bela­PAN news agency” as an extrem­ist for­ma­tion on Novem­ber 1, 2021.


    The Case of Henadzi Mazhey­ka  

    Henadzi Mazhey­ka, a jour­nal­ist of ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ was detained by spe­cial ser­vices in Moscow and deport­ed to Min­sk on Octo­ber 1, 2021. The deten­tion was rea­soned by the pub­li­ca­tion of his arti­cle on the www.kp.by Web-site in the evening of Sep­tem­ber 28, 2021. The pub­li­ca­tion con­tained a for­mer class­mate’s pos­i­tive remark about the IT spe­cial­ist Andrei Zeltser, who par­tic­i­pat­ed in a trag­ic inci­dent that cost lives to a KGB offi­cer and Zeltser. Although the edi­to­r­i­al delet­ed the text in a cou­ple of min­utes after its pub­li­ca­tion online, the Web-site www.kp.by was blocked for access on deci­sion of Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus on the fol­low­ing day. Alleged­ly, the pub­li­ca­tion ‘con­tributed to form­ing the sources of threats to the nation­al secu­ri­ty.’

    Henadzi Mazhey­ka was tak­en into cus­tody. He was pre­sent­ed charges under two arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus – Arti­cle 130 (incite­ment of racial, nation­al, reli­gious or oth­er social hos­til­i­ty or hatred) and Arti­cle 369 (an insult to a gov­ern­men­tal offi­cial). Con­se­quent­ly, the Russ­ian office of ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da’ decid­ed to close its CJSC ‘BelKP-PRESS’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion office that had pub­lished the ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ news­pa­per since 1994.


    The Case of Andrei Kukharchyk

    On Octo­ber 24, 2021, the edi­tor of the “Vir­tu­al Brest” News Web-por­tal Andrei Kuharchyk was sen­tenced to 1.5 years of restric­tion of lib­er­ty with­out being sent to a cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ty for “insult­ing a gov­ern­men­tal offi­cial” (Arti­cle 369 of the Crim­i­nal Code). The tri­al took place in the Moscow City Dis­trict Court of Brest.

    Accord­ing to the indict­ment, Kuharchyk wrote a com­ment under the pho­to of a deputy of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Ihar Marza­luk in the ‘Dis­cussing dan­ger­ous Brest’ Telegram chat. Judg­ing by the pub­lished video of the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs about this case, the com­ment con­tained the fol­low­ing words: ‘The peo­ple were beat­en, and the MP said, ‘For­get about the com­plaints and start with a clean slate.’ It’s annoy­ing […]”. The ‘Vir­tu­al Brest’ web­site was blocked at the same moment of time.


    The Case of Iry­na Slau­nika­va

    A jour­nal­ist of Bel­sat TV chan­nel Iry­na Slau­nika­va was detained on return from a hol­i­day trip at the air­port of Min­sk on Octo­ber 30, 2021. She wasn’t released from cus­tody hav­ing served 30 days of admin­is­tra­tive arrest. Con­se­quent­ly, she was pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment or par­tic­i­pa­tion in group actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order).


    The Case of Andrei Kuzniechyk

    Andrei Kuzniechyk, a free­lance jour­nal­ist, who coop­er­at­ed with ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’, was detained on Novem­ber 25, 2021. Fol­low­ing the reporter’s deten­tion, the law enforce­ment agents man­aged to take con­trol over the ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ Telegram-chan­nel for a short peri­od of time. A. Kuzniechyk was sen­tenced to the admin­is­tra­tive arrest on the fol­low­ing day after his deten­tion. Then, he was sen­tenced to two more terms of admin­is­tra­tive arrest for a total of 30 days. How­ev­er, he was nev­er released from cus­tody. 

    On Decem­ber 23, 2021, A. Kuzniechyk’s rel­a­tives were informed that a crim­i­nal case had been filed against him.

    While Kuznechyk was under arrest, the court rec­og­nized the chan­nels of the Belaru­sian ser­vice of ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ on Telegram and YouTube as well as the cor­re­spond­ing pages on social media as extrem­ist mate­ri­als on Decem­ber 3, 2021.


    The Case of Aleh Hruzdzilovich

    A ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ jour­nal­ist Aleh Hruzdzilovich was detained on Decem­ber 23, 2021. He active­ly cov­ered the social and polit­i­cal events in Belarus in the sum­mer of 2020. Among oth­er, despite being deprived of press cre­den­tials from the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs along­side with most oth­er cor­re­spon­dents of for­eign media in August 2020, he was stream­ing for the ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ YouTube chan­nel from protest actions. The streams were extreme­ly pop­u­lar with the audi­ence.

    First­ly, Hruzdzilovich was detained dur­ing mass search­es at inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists’ apart­ments on July 16, 2021. He spent 10 days in cus­tody. After being released, the jour­nal­ist remained a sus­pect. And he was forced to sign a bond to appear in Court. On Decem­ber 23, 2021, a group of masked peo­ple broke down the door in Hruzdzilovich’s pri­vate apart­ment in Min­sk and took him into cus­tody. Con­se­quent­ly, it appeared that the mea­sure of his restraint had been changed.

    The jour­nal­ist was pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them). He was accused of par­tic­i­pat­ing in an unau­tho­rized action at a time when he had already been deprived of press cre­den­tials by the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus. On March 3, 2022, the Sovi­et City Dis­trict of Min­sk sen­tenced him to 1.5 years of impris­on­ment.


    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of blog­gers

    Quite a few of Belaru­sian blog­gers, who expressed their opin­ion on the socio-polit­i­cal issues, were arrest­ed in con­nec­tion with their crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion dur­ing the peri­od of pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign 2020. Nine blog­gers, includ­ing a prospec­tive pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Siarhei Tsikhanous­ki, were tak­en into cus­tody. A famous polit­i­cal blog­ger Eduard Palchys was detained in Octo­ber 2020. The arrest­ed blog­gers were put on tri­al in 2021. Con­se­quent­ly, all of them were sen­tenced to dif­fer­ent terms of impris­on­ment, includ­ing:


    Uladz­imir Niaron­s­ki – 3 years of impris­on­ment on Arti­cle 342, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them) and Arti­cle 369 of the Crim­i­nal Code (an insult to a gov­ern­men­tal offi­cial); 

    Pavel Spiryn – 4.5 years of impris­on­ment in a penal colony on Arti­cle 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code (incite­ment to racial, nation­al, reli­gious or oth­er social hatred); 

    Siarhei Pia­trukhin – 3 years of impris­on­ment on Arti­cle 342, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them) and Arti­cle 391 of the Crim­i­nal Code (an insult to a judge or a lay judge);


    Ali­ak­san­dr Kabanau – 3 years of impris­on­ment on Arti­cle 342, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them);

    Ihar Losik, con­sul­tant for ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ – 15 years of impris­on­ment in the enhanced secu­ri­ty penal colony on Arti­cle 293 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment of mass riots) and Arti­cle 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code (incite­ment of hatred);

    Eduard Palchys – 13 years of impris­on­ment in the enhanced secu­ri­ty penal colony on Arti­cle 293, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment of mass riots), Arti­cle 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them), Arti­cle 361 of the Crim­i­nal Code (calls for actions aimed at caus­ing harm to the nation­al secu­ri­ty of the Repub­lic of Belarus) and Arti­cle 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code (incite­ment of hatred).

    The legal inves­ti­ga­tion of the crim­i­nal case against blog­gers Raman Pratasievich and Stsi­a­pan Put­si­la con­tin­ued in 2021. The media work­ers found­ed the NEXTA Telegram Chan­nel that played an impor­tant role in the cov­er­age of post-elec­tion protests in 2020 and gained the high­est pop­u­lar­i­ty in Belarus.

    In Novem­ber 2020, the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus brought charges against the blog­gers in con­nec­tion with the events around the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on August 9, 2020. In par­tic­u­lar, they were accused of orga­niz­ing mass riots and group actions that gross­ly vio­lat­ed pub­lic order (Arti­cles 293 and 342 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus). Also, they were pre­sent­ed charges under Arti­cle 130, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code for the alleged ‘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 them. Both blog­gers were declared inter­na­tion­al­ly want­ed.

    Also, the KGB includ­ed them into the List of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als, deal­ing with ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties.

    On May 23, 2021, the blog­ger Raman Pratasievich was arrest­ed by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties as a result of the forced land­ing of a pas­sen­ger jet fly­ing from Athens to Vil­nius. His girl­friend Sofia Sape­ga, a cit­i­zen of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion was detained togeth­er with him.

    The alleged threat of an explo­sion on board was announced as the rea­son for the forced land­ing of the plane. The BelTA state news agency report­ed that Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka per­son­al­ly ordered the plane crew to land in Min­sk and approved the use of the MiG-29 fight­er to con­voy the jet. The for­mer Edi­tor-in-chief of the NEXTA Telegram chan­nel Raman Pratasievich was the edi­tor of anoth­er “Belarus of Head Brain” oppo­si­tion Telegram chan­nel at the time of his arrest.

    Pratasievich was placed in a pre­tri­al deten­tion cen­ter after his arrest. On June 14, the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus held a brief­ing with his par­tic­i­pa­tion, where the blog­ger under­scored that he vol­un­tar­i­ly coop­er­at­ed with the legal inves­ti­ga­tion.

    At the end of June 2021, Raman Pratasievich and Sofia Sape­ga were placed under house arrest. The blog­ger repeat­ed­ly appeared on TV and on Twit­ter, show­ing remorse for his for­mer activ­i­ties.

    The blog­ger’s arrest as a result of the forced land­ing of a for­eign plane, which was car­ried out by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties, caused an extreme­ly wide pub­lic response in the world, includ­ing the reac­tion of the UN Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al, which led to a sharp increase in the sanc­tions pres­sure on the Belaru­sian regime in pow­er.

    Two crim­i­nal cas­es against a pop­u­lar blog­ger Anton Matol­ka were filed in March 2021. The blog­ger cov­ered the events, con­nect­ed with the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion 2020. The crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion was ini­ti­at­ed on charges under Arti­cle 130, part 3 of the Crim­i­nal Code (‘in con­nec­tion with the imple­men­ta­tion of inten­tion­al actions aimed at incit­ing social hatred on the grounds of pro­fes­sion­al affil­i­a­tion in rela­tion to the gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials and law enforce­ment agents’) and Arti­cle 361–1, part 1 of the Crim­i­nal Code (cre­ation of an extrem­ist for­ma­tion). The Legal Inves­ti­ga­tion Com­mit­tee rep­re­sen­ta­tives stat­ed that Matol­ka unit­ed extrem­ist groups (the so-called ‘back­yard chats’), estab­lished an extrem­ist for­ma­tion, and man­aged it.   

    On August 16, 2021, a blog­ger Vadi­mati (Vadz­im Yer­mashuk) was arrest­ed in Hrod­na. He expressed protest against vio­lence, sup­port­ed polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, and attend­ed court ses­sions on ‘polit­i­cal’ cas­es. As it became known lat­er, he was pre­sent­ed charges under two arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code – Arti­cle 368 (caus­ing an insult to the Pres­i­dent of Belarus) and Arti­cle 370 (defama­tion of state sym­bols).

    The blog­ger was sen­tenced to 3 years of impris­on­ment on Decem­ber 21, 2021.



    On June 8, the Supreme Court left unchanged the ver­dict, announced by judge Ernest Koira from the Eco­nom­ic Court, who imposed a fine of 8,700 Belaru­sian rubles on the “Nasha Niva” news­pa­per for the alleged­ly ille­gal busi­ness activ­i­ty. The edi­to­r­i­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives, alleged­ly, print­ed 20 manda­to­ry news­pa­per copies, which were not sold any­where, with the use of the edi­to­r­i­al print­ing equip­ment.

    On Sep­tem­ber 22, judge Alyak­sei Kmi­ta from Kobryn Dis­trict Court did not sat­is­fy the claim, sub­mit­ted by the chil­dren’s doc­tor Julia Rafalovich in defense of her hon­or, dig­ni­ty and busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion against the Kobryn­s­ki Ves­nik dis­trict state newspaper’s edi­to­r­i­al.

    In the arti­cle “When the Hip­po­crat­ic Oath… was for­got­ten”, post­ed on vkobrine.by Web­site on April 21 and pub­lished in the print­ed ver­sion of Kobryn­s­ki Ves­nik on April 24, the author of the pub­li­ca­tion report­ed that the local doc­tor ‘cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly refused… to help the police­man’s child for polit­i­cal rea­sons.’ At the same time, the law enforce­ment author­i­ties did not find any crime in the doc­tor’s actions, hav­ing looked into the fact of ‘fail­ure to pro­vide med­ical aid to a patient with­out valid rea­sons.’ The case was heard dur­ing the closed court ses­sion.

    On Octo­ber 28, the Eco­nom­ic Court of Min­sk took a deci­sion to col­lect more than 108 thou­sand rubles (about 44.5 thou­sand US dol­lars) from the ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ news­pa­per in favor of ‘Bel­posh­ta’ state enter­prise. The lat­ter appealed to the court, since the inde­pen­dent news­pa­per hadn’t deliv­ered its print runs for dis­tri­b­u­tion by sub­scrip­tion and through news-stalls. It hap­pened due to that fact that the media out­let couldn’t print its cir­cu­la­tion since August 2020 (see more details in the chap­ter on ‘Repres­sion against the print press rep­re­sen­ta­tives’).

    On Novem­ber 12, the Eco­nom­ic Court of Min­sk sat­is­fied the law­suit of the Karich broth­ers, who are busi­ness­men from Ser­bia, against Stanis­lau Ivashke­vich, the head of the Belaru­sian inves­tiga­tive cen­ter and the author of ‘Let’s find out’ pro­gram on the Bel­sat TV chan­nel. The law­suit was ground­ed on the pub­li­ca­tion of an arti­cle about the Karich broth­ers’ busi­ness in Belarus in the Ser­bian media. The pub­li­ca­tion was pre­pared with­in the frame­work of the Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion Report­ing Project (OCCRP). The court ruled that Ivashke­vich should remove sev­er­al quotes about the activ­i­ty of the Karich fam­i­ly in Belarus, which was accom­pa­nied by the receipt of exces­sive prof­its, from this inves­tiga­tive arti­cle.



    The sys­temic pres­sure on the inde­pen­dent press of Belarus was observed in 2021 in con­tin­u­a­tion of numer­ous gross vio­la­tions of jour­nal­ists’ rights that took place after the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in August 2020. The work of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists in Belarus was accom­pa­nied with arbi­trary deten­tions, search­es with the seizure of pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment and infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers, as well as admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty in the form of fines and arrests. The coor­di­nat­ed mass repres­sion against inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and mass media was aimed at destroy­ing the inde­pen­dent media sec­tor. Con­se­quent­ly, it became impos­si­ble for most inde­pen­dent media to con­tin­ue their work from Belarus. The media out­lets had to car­ry on their activ­i­ty from abroad.

    Accord­ing to the annu­al report, issued by the Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists, Belarus ranked 5th in the world as for the num­ber of jour­nal­ists in prison in 2021.

    The ‘Reporters with­out Bor­ders’ human rights orga­ni­za­tion labeled Belarus as the most dan­ger­ous coun­try for media work­ers in Europe.


    Deten­tion and admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists

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

    Yahor Martsi­novich, the ‘Nasha Niva’ online publication’s Edi­tor-in-chief was beat­en cru­el­ly and injured in the head at the moment of deten­tion on July 8, 2021. A ‘Bel­sat’ TV cor­re­spon­dent Dzmit­ry Soltan was beat­en in the stom­ach with a trun­cheon dur­ing the inter­ro­ga­tion after his arrest on Feb­ru­ary 8, 2021.

    Jour­nal­ists were fined no less than 50 times on charges under 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.

    18 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 for the alleged vio­la­tion of the fol­low­ing legal norms of Belarus Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es: Arti­cle 24.3 (dis­obe­di­ence to a law­ful order or demand of an offi­cial in the exer­cise of his/her offi­cial pow­ers), Arti­cle 19.1 (pet­ty hooli­gan­ism), and Arti­cle 19.11 (dis­tri­b­u­tion, pro­duc­tion, stor­age, trans­porta­tion of infor­ma­tion prod­ucts con­tain­ing calls for extrem­ist activ­i­ties or pro­mot­ing such activ­i­ties).

    In 29 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.


    Mass search­es and seizure of pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment

    Since July 8, 2021, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties began to car­ry out ‘a large-scale oper­a­tion […] to clean up the rad­i­cal­ly mind­ed peo­ple…’, as stat­ed by Kanstantsin Bychek, Deputy Head of the Inves­tiga­tive Depart­ment of the KGB of Belarus. It affect­ed the inde­pen­dent press, human rights defend­ers, and oth­er civ­il soci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

    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 (arrange­ment 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.

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

    Search­es and deten­tions took place at 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 went on a hunger strike through­out the peri­od of her deten­tion.


    Obstruc­tion of activ­i­ty of Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists

    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, too.

    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 there. 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 Legal Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee of Belarus not­ed that the oper­a­tion was car­ried out with­in the frame­work of a pre­lim­i­nary inves­ti­ga­tion into the fund­ing 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 its lead­er­ship rep­re­sen­ta­tives were sum­moned to the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee for inter­ro­ga­tion on sev­er­al occa­sions.

    On June 21, 2021, the Min­istry of Jus­tice start­ed to audit 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 it was received on June 21, 2021 only. It was the dead­line for sub­mit­ting the numer­ous doc­u­ments. The Min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tive post­poned the dead­line till June 23, 2021 lat­er on. The BAJ rep­re­sen­ta­tives sub­mit­ted to the Min­istry of Jus­tice all request­ed doc­u­ments, which they man­aged to col­lect over two days.

    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 rental 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.

    Judge Inesa Laza­viko­va from 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.

    The pub­lic access to the BAJ Web-site – baj.by – was blocked for Belaru­sian Web-users by deci­sion of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus on Novem­ber 4, 2021.

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists was pre­sent­ed the Ger­man-Nor­we­gian Free Media Awards for inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism in East­ern Europe in 2021. Also, the BAJ became a lau­re­ate of Ihor Lubchenko Nation­al Prize for the Pro­tec­tion of Free­dom of Speech, which is award­ed by the Nation­al Union of Jour­nal­ists of Ukraine.



    Since the time of pres­i­den­tial elec­tion 2020, the state has made numer­ous attempts to restrict access to infor­ma­tion on the Web.

    “The easy access to the Inter­net for a wide audi­ence has made the glob­al Web a lead­ing source of infor­ma­tion. The vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment is the most pow­er­ful fac­tor influ­enc­ing the pop­u­la­tion nowa­days. At the same time, the infor­ma­tion dis­sem­i­nat­ed on the Inter­net is not always aimed at the devel­op­ment of soci­ety and the state. The Inter­net has become a tool of infor­ma­tion wars aimed at destroy­ing pub­lic foun­da­tions and moral val­ues, and some­times entire states,” – not­ed the Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion Ihar Lut­s­ki, pre­sent­ing a draft law on mass media activ­i­ties on April 2, 2021. 

    Among oth­er, the author­i­ties applied such mea­sures as block­ing pub­lic access to the Web-sites of inde­pen­dent mass media and civ­il soci­ety orga­ni­za­tions, the forced dele­tion of crit­i­cal con­tent, recog­ni­tion of pub­li­ca­tions on inde­pen­dent media resources as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’, and pros­e­cu­tion for dis­tri­b­u­tion of the alleged ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ dur­ing the year of 2021.

    Accord­ing to the glob­al rat­ing list on Free­dom on the Net 2021 that was com­piled by the Free­dom House human rights orga­ni­za­tion, Belarus appeared next to Myan­mar and Ugan­da among the coun­tries with the reg­is­tered most sig­nif­i­cant aggra­va­tion of Web free­dom. In com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous year, Belarus lost 7 posi­tions on the list and got only 31 out of 100 pos­si­ble points.


    Pres­sure on online media

    A broad range of search­es was con­duct­ed at the edi­to­ri­als of nation-wide and region­al online media in 2021. Their employ­ees were inter­ro­gat­ed. The police search­es were held at their apart­ments as well. Some of the employ­ees were pros­e­cut­ed on admin­is­tra­tive and crim­i­nal charges.

    In par­tic­u­lar, there were searched edi­to­r­i­al premis­es of ‘Binokl’ (‘Binoc­u­lar’) online media (Brest), ‘Ranak’ Web-site (Svet­la­horsk), ‘Intex-Press’ (Baranavichy), ‘Media Palessie’ (Pin­sk – Luninets), ‘Mot­snya Naviny’ (‘Strong News’) Web-site (Homiel), Radio Lib­er­ty and oth­er. As a result of police search­es, there were seized doc­u­ments and tech­ni­cal equip­ment that blocked edi­to­r­i­al work or made it more com­pli­cat­ed.

    Huge fines were imposed on a num­ber of inde­pen­dent media Web-site for the pub­lished con­tent that fur­ther led to deci­sions on dis­abling pub­lic access to them.

    Thus, the ‘Media Palesse’ Web-site own­er was fined 5771 Belaru­sian rubles (around USD 2300 in equiv­a­lent) on July 27, 2021 for the alleged dis­tri­b­u­tion of incor­rect infor­ma­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, the phrase ‘The judges from Pin­sk refused to con­duct the tri­al. There­fore, the accused were trans­ferred to Brest’. 

    As report­ed on Sep­tem­ber 16, 2021, the ‘Inform-Prahul­ka’ online news­pa­per (Luninets, Brest region) was fined 2900 Belaru­sian rubles (around USD 1150) for ‘caus­ing harm to the nation­al inter­ests of Belarus’. The charges were pre­sent­ed under Arti­cle 23.5 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offens­es (vio­la­tion of mass media leg­is­la­tion). The court ver­dict was ground­ed on the infor­ma­tion that had been post­ed in the Digest Web-sec­tion and con­tained reposts of the news pub­lished by oth­er mass media.

    The author­i­ties con­tin­ued the prac­tice of block­ing access to the Web-sites of inde­pen­dent mass media. The def­i­n­i­tion of ‘copies of online resources’ was intro­duced into the nation­al leg­is­la­tion in March 2021. Con­se­quent­ly, the block­ing prac­tice was extend­ed to the so-called ‘mir­ror’ Web-sites, cre­at­ed to bypass the blocks of tar­get­ed Web-resources. 

    Thus, there was restrict­ed access to a num­ber of ‘mir­ror’ Web-sites of inde­pen­dent mass media, includ­ing ‘Naviny.online’ Web-resource of Bela­PAN News Agency,  ‘Blstv.eu’ Web-site of ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel,  ‘euroradio.pl’ Web-site of ‘Euro­pean Radio for Belarus’, ‘Zerkalo.io’ Web-site of TUT.by and oth­er.

    Since the autumn of 2021, there was start­ed a new wave of block­ing access to online news resources, includ­ing Media-Pоlesye.by,  the Web-site of ‘Belaru­sian Radio Racy­ja’,  belaruspartisan.by,  the Web-site of ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’, and oth­er.

    The offi­cial author­i­ties took reg­u­lar planned steps on restrict­ing the influ­ence of lead­ing online-media, includ­ing TUT.BY, nashaniva.by and naviny.by. Con­se­quent­ly, the pub­lic access to the Web-resources was blocked. And a num­ber of their employ­ees faced crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. (see ‘Crim­i­nal Cas­es’ for details).

    Nev­er­the­less, inde­pen­dent online media con­tin­ued to pre­vail in the Belaru­sian media space. They diver­si­fied the dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels of infor­ma­tion, work­ing more active­ly on social media and mes­sen­gers. The Belaru­sian audi­ence start­ed using more active­ly the mes­sen­gers, par­tic­u­lar­ly Telegram, and social media, par­tic­u­lar­ly YouTube, for get­ting access to infor­ma­tion.


    Imple­men­ta­tion of leg­is­la­tion on coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism

    The use of leg­is­la­tion on coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism, aimed at restric­tion of free­dom of speech online, reached an unprece­dent­ed scale in 2021. In par­tic­u­lar, all crit­i­cal state­ments and activ­i­ties were regard­ed as ‘extrem­ist’ activ­i­ties.

    The author­i­ties start­ed using new pro­vi­sions of the law ‘On coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism’ in rela­tion to inde­pen­dent mass media.


    The num­ber of court deci­sions rec­og­niz­ing extrem­ist mate­ri­als dra­mat­i­cal­ly increased since the sum­mer of 2021. 71 court ver­dicts on rec­og­niz­ing 115 pub­li­ca­tions as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ were returned in June – July 2021. It was three times more in com­par­i­son with the peri­od since the begin­ning of April till the end of May 2021. 84 court rul­ings on rec­og­niz­ing 129 pub­li­ca­tions as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ were returned in August – Sep­tem­ber 2021. The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of them was con­nect­ed with Telegram chan­nels. It was reg­is­tered for the first time dur­ing the whole his­to­ry of obser­va­tions that not only the Telegram chan­nels were banned, but also the bots of some of the Telegram chats. All in all, over 410 Telegram chan­nels and chats as well as more than 20 YouTube chan­nels were rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist’ by the Belaru­sian author­i­ties in 2021.

    Since the moment of a large-scale attack on inde­pen­dent media and civ­il soci­ety in July 2021, the Belaru­sian author­i­ties start­ed to rec­og­nize the con­tent of online mass media as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’, in addi­tion to their Telegram chan­nels.

    Apart from the Telegram chan­nels, the author­i­ties con­tin­ued to include the accounts of inde­pen­dent media on oth­er social media, includ­ing Face­book and VK, into the list of ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’. It was reg­is­tered for the first time in his­to­ry of obser­va­tion that the author­i­ties also banned pages of mass media on ‘Odnok­lass­ni­ki’, Insta­gram, and Tik­Tok. 

    Thus, they rec­og­nized the Bel­sat TV Web-site, Telegram chan­nel and pages on social media as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ on July 27, 2021. 

    Then, they rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ the con­tent of Tribuna.com sports online media, the con­tent of the lead­ing news por­tal TUT.BY and the con­tent of zerkalo.io Web-site that sub­sti­tut­ed TUT.BY after its block­ing. 

    Tak­ing into account that prac­ti­cal­ly any Belaru­sian media used TUT.BY pub­li­ca­tions, all of them faced the risk of pros­e­cu­tion for the alleged ‘dis­sem­i­na­tion of extrem­ist mate­ri­als’.

    Thus, the Pub­lic Prosecutor’s office for Brest region restrict­ed access to the ‘Media Palessie’ Web-site for 6 months for repost­ing pub­li­ca­tions from the Web-resources, which were lat­er rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist’.

    On Octo­ber 28, 2021, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion blocked access to three online media in a row (Deutsche Welle, ‘Nas­toy­ash­eye Vre­mya’ and ‘Novy Chas’) for ‘spread­ing hyper­links to mate­ri­als rec­og­nized as extrem­ist’.

    The fate of the pop­u­lar region­al news Web-site Hrodna.life (Hrod­na) became an exam­ple of the use of anti-extrem­ism leg­is­la­tion to put pres­sure on the media, up to their liq­ui­da­tion.

    On March 19, its Edi­tor-in-chief Alyak­sei Shota was fined 12,325 Belaru­sian rubles in total (about USD 4,900) for dis­trib­ut­ing infor­ma­tion prod­ucts includ­ed in the Nation­al list of extrem­ist mate­ri­als. The ques­tion­able pub­li­ca­tions in April and June 2020 con­tained links or the logo of a Telegram chan­nel, which was rec­og­nized as extrem­ist in Octo­ber 2020.

    On June 3, the own­er of Hrodna.life Web­site — JSC “Hrod­na Life Media” was fined 14,500 Belaru­sian rubles (about USD 5,800) on the same grounds. The new admin­is­tra­tive case was based upon pub­li­ca­tion of one pho­to, delet­ed in a few hours after its post­ing. The Hrodna.life edi­tor Iry­na Novik was fined 725 Belaru­sian rubles for post­ing the pho­to, too.

    On July 9, 2021, the Lenin­sky City Dis­trict Court of Hrod­na rec­og­nized the con­tent of Hrodna.life Telegram chan­nel as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als.’ Accord­ing to the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor’s office, it post­ed mes­sages that fos­tered enmi­ty and con­tained ‘expres­sions aimed at incit­ing the deter­mi­na­tion to use vio­lence against a cer­tain social group of peo­ple and aimed at form­ing motives of hatred towards peo­ple based on a cer­tain pro­fes­sion and type of occu­pa­tion’, as well as pho­tos with the logo of an ‘extrem­ist’ Telegram chan­nel.

    Fol­low­ing the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor’s claim, the court liq­ui­dat­ed JSC “Hrod­na Life Media” on August 26, 2021, refer­ring to the fact that it ‘car­ried out activ­i­ties pro­hib­it­ed by leg­isla­tive acts’, men­tion­ing two cas­es when Hrodna.life employ­ees were brought to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for the dis­tri­b­u­tion of ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als.’

    On Sep­tem­ber 16, 2021, the Hrodna.life Web­site was blocked in accor­dance with the deci­sion of the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor’s office of Hrod­na region. The block­ing was explained by pub­li­ca­tion of arti­cles accom­pa­nied by video mate­ri­als ‘that dis­cred­it the activ­i­ties of gov­ern­men­tal law enforce­ment agen­cies’, bring­ing the Web­site edi­tors to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for dis­sem­i­na­tion of extrem­ist mate­ri­als and dis­tri­b­u­tion of extrem­ist infor­ma­tion prod­ucts. Con­se­quent­ly, Hrodna.life man­aged to con­tin­ue its activ­i­ty only through ‘mir­ror’ Web­sites and social media.

    All in all, the con­tent of 13 inde­pen­dent mass media was rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ by offi­cial author­i­ties in 2021.

    More­over, the author­i­ties start­ed apply­ing leg­isla­tive inno­va­tions on coun­ter­ac­tion to extrem­ism in the form of ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’ in order to pros­e­cute rep­re­sen­ta­tives of online media (Arti­cle 361–1 of the Crim­i­nal Code envis­ages up to 10 years of impris­on­ment for cre­at­ing an extrem­ist for­ma­tion and up to 6 years of impris­on­ment for par­tic­i­pa­tion in it.)

    At the begin­ning, the charges were pre­sent­ed to the cre­ators and admin­is­tra­tors of oppo­si­tion­al Telegram com­mu­ni­ties. With the time pass­ing, the author­i­ties start­ed pre­sent­ing them to jour­nal­ists, too. Thus, two crim­i­nal police search­es with­in a month’s term were con­duct­ed at the pri­vate apart­ment, owned by a famous Belaru­sian TV- and radio pre­sen­ter Kat­siary­na Pytl­e­va, in Sep­tem­ber 2021. The search­es took place as soon as she became the Pro­gram Direc­tor and pre­sen­ter of a pop­u­lar YouTube project ‘Malan­ka Media’, fol­low­ing her relo­ca­tion to Lithua­nia.

    On Novem­ber 3, 2021, the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs took a deci­sion to rec­og­nize ‘a group of cit­i­zens, who are unit­ed through the Bel­sat Web-resources’ as an extrem­ist for­ma­tion.

    Apart from that, the Min­istry of Inter­nal Affairs of Belarus rec­og­nized ‘a group of cit­i­zens unit­ed through the Inter­net resources of Radio Lib­er­ty’ as an extrem­ist for­ma­tion and the KGB rec­og­nized ‘a group of cit­i­zens of Belarus from among the employ­ees of the Bela­PAN News Agency’ as an extrem­ist for­ma­tion lat­er.

    More­over, in order to lim­it the influ­ence of inde­pen­dent media, the author­i­ties began to apply the anti-extrem­ist leg­is­la­tion as the grounds for pros­e­cu­tion of Web-users for dis­sem­i­na­tion of media con­tent that had been rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als.’ The forms of pun­ish­ment on admin­is­tra­tive charges include not only fines, but also dif­fer­ent terms of admin­is­tra­tive arrest.

    On May 7, 2021, the Belarus Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al’s Office issued a state­ment that pros­e­cu­tors mon­i­tor mes­sages on the Web on the dai­ly basis. At the same time, it was empha­sized that ‘any step on the Inter­net, whether vis­it­ing a cer­tain Web-resource, or rat­ing cer­tain images or mes­sages on social media, or post­ing or com­ment­ing on them, is record­ed.’

    Two jour­nal­ists, Iry­na Slau­nika­va and Siarhey Niarouny were found guilty of dis­sem­i­nat­ing extrem­ist mate­ri­als (pub­li­ca­tions of Bel­sat and TUT.by) by ver­dicts of Belaru­sian courts on Novem­ber 1, 2021. Iry­na Slau­nika­va was arrest­ed for 15 days for her reposts on Face­book. Siarhey Niarouny was fined 580 Belaru­sian rubles for his ‘likes’ on Face­book.

    The Web-users are even pun­ished for ‘dis­tri­b­u­tion of extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ in pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence. Thus, e.g., Pavel Smirnou from Min­sk was sen­tenced to 15 days of arrest for send­ing a mes­sage from TUT.by Telegram chan­nel to his friend as soon as the police offi­cers got access to his mobile phone.



    The Belaru­sian gov­ern­ment con­tin­ued to restrict the activ­i­ty of inde­pen­dent print­ed media in 2021. First of all, it con­cerned the print­ed socio-polit­i­cal media.

    In 2020, the offi­cial author­i­ties applied the pol­i­cy by means of depriv­ing the peri­od­i­cal edi­tions of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to print and dis­trib­ute their print runs. In 2021, the pres­sure on the part of law enforce­ment agen­cies and pub­lic pros­e­cu­tion bod­ies as well as pros­e­cu­tion of both the pub­li­ca­tions and their employ­ees were added.


    Repres­sion against the print press rep­re­sen­ta­tives

    On March 24, 2021, Piotr Huza­yeus­ki, the Edi­tor-in-chief of ‘Hantsav­it­s­ki Chas’ inde­pen­dent region­al news­pa­per and two cor­re­spon­dents Siarhei Bahrou and Ali­ak­san­dr Paz­ni­ak were sum­moned to the Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor’s office, where offi­cial warn­ings were pro­nounced to S. Bahrou and A. Paz­ni­ak.

    The ‘Novy Chas’ news­pa­per received a warn­ing from the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion on March 25, 2021. It was issued for pub­lish­ing four arti­cles that alleged­ly con­tained infor­ma­tion that ‘con­tributed to caus­ing harm to the nation­al inter­ests of the Repub­lic of Belarus.’

    The Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­er­al’s office issued anoth­er warn­ing to the news­pa­per Edi­tor-in-chief in May 2021. It was pre­sent­ed in con­nec­tion to the fact that the authors of some pub­li­ca­tions ‘used cer­tain expres­sions and phras­es that con­tributed to the height­en­ing of ten­sion in soci­ety as well as incite­ment of hatred and enmi­ty against gov­ern­men­tal offi­cials and law enforce­ment offi­cers as sep­a­rate social groups of pop­u­la­tion.’

    The ‘Intex-press’ region­al news­pa­per from Baranavichy (Brest region) suf­fered from per­se­cu­tion for pub­lish­ing an inter­view with Svi­at­lana Tsikhanouskaya on April 14, 2021. The news­pa­per Edi­tor-in-chief Uladz­imir Yanuke­vich received a warn­ing from the Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tor’s office on the fol­low­ing day. Then, he was fined the max­i­mum pos­si­ble sum for ‘vio­lat­ing the mass media leg­is­la­tion’ – 580 Belaru­sian rubles (approx. USD 240). In addi­tion, the ‘Intex-press’ Pub­lish­ing house was fined 4,350 Belaru­sian rubles (approx. USD 1,780) lat­er on.

    Fol­low­ing the claim, filed by the Pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor’s office, the pub­lished inter­view with Svi­at­lana Tsikhanouskaya and its video record­ing were offi­cial­ly rec­og­nized as extrem­ist mate­ri­als.

    Anoth­er series of search­es was con­duct­ed at the edi­to­r­i­al offices of inde­pen­dent media and jour­nal­ists’ pri­vate apart­ments in July 2021. They were accom­pa­nied with inter­ro­ga­tions and seizure of tech­ni­cal equip­ment. Con­se­quent­ly, a num­ber of region­al news­pa­pers seized to be pub­lished in the print­ed form.

    A series of search­es took place at the ‘Novy Chas’ edi­to­r­i­al office as well as at the news­pa­per employ­ees’ pri­vate apart­ments in Octo­ber 2021.

    Since the sum­mer of 2020, the state-owned print­ing hous­es have refused to print the lead­ing non-state news­pa­pers ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’, ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’, ‘Svo­bod­nye Novosti Plus’, and ‘Bel­gaze­ta’.  ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ and ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ start­ed pub­lish­ing their cir­cu­la­tions out­side Belarus. How­ev­er, the ‘Bel­posh­ta’ and ‘Bel­sayuz­druk’ de-fac­to monop­o­list state-owned retail sales net­works of press dis­trib­u­tors refused to sell the news­pa­pers, despite the pres­ence of exist­ing con­tracts. Con­se­quent­ly, these peri­od­i­cal edi­tions had to con­tin­ue their activ­i­ty online only.

    The fol­low­ing media out­lets ter­mi­nat­ed pub­li­ca­tion of their peri­od­i­cals in the print ver­sion in 2021: ‘Brest­skaya Gaze­ta’, ‘Leader-Press’ (Sal­i­horsk), ‘Intex-press’ news­pa­per (Baranavichy), ‘Inform-progul­ka’ news­pa­per (Luninets), ‘Rehiyanal­naya gaze­ta’ (Mal­adziech­na), ‘Novy Chas’ and ‘Nasha Slo­va’. As a rule, this step was pre­ced­ed by the refusal of ‘Bel­sayuz­druk’ to dis­trib­ute the print media through its net­work and the exclu­sion of the print media from the ‘Bel­posh­ta’ sub­scrip­tion cat­a­logues.

    The pub­li­ca­tion of ‘Verasen’ lit­er­ary mag­a­zine was ter­mi­nat­ed in 2021, since its founder — ‘The Belaru­sian Lan­guage Soci­ety’ was deprived of offi­cial reg­is­tra­tion.

    ‘Gaze­ta Slonim­skaya’ and ‘Otdushi­na’ news­pa­pers (Slonim, Hrod­na region) could­n’t resume their pub­li­ca­tion after the sus­pen­sion of activ­i­ty, fol­low­ing a search and the seizure of tech­ni­cal equip­ment in Novem­ber 2020. On May 24, 2021, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion includ­ed both news­pa­pers into the Reg­is­ter of Print Mass Media. How­ev­er, the print­ing hous­es refused to print their cir­cu­la­tions.

    The ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ news­pa­per tried repeat­ed­ly to arrange the print­ing of its issues in Rus­sia, all in vain. The con­tracts were can­celled sub­ject to interef­er­ence from the author­i­ties. The riot police came to the ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ edi­to­r­i­al office on Novem­ber 13, 2020 and seized with­out pro­vid­ing any expla­na­tions the whole print run of a fresh news­pa­per issue, which had just been deliv­ered from a print­ing house in Rus­sia. The dri­ver and two vol­un­teers, who dealt with the print run deliv­ery were detained at that.  ‘Bel­posh­ta’ made use of this sit­u­a­tion to sue ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ for reim­burse­ment of costs for the news­pa­per copies, which had­n’t been received since August 2020. The amount to be paid was pro­nounced by the Eco­nom­ic Court of Min­sk at the end of Octo­ber 2021. It totaled 108,000 Belaru­sian rubles (over USD 44,500).

    On Decem­ber 1, 2021, it was report­ed that the OJSC ‘Brest Print­ing House’ refused to print the ‘Hantsav­it­s­ki Chas’ region­al news­pa­per since the begin­ning of 2022.

    The mag­a­zines ‘Our His­to­ry’, ‘Atten­tion, Chil­dren!’, and ‘Duda’ were deprived of the pos­si­bil­i­ty of dis­tri­b­u­tion through the state-owned sales net­works.

    As a result of the offi­cial pol­i­cy, 7 news­pa­pers and 1 mag­a­zine ceased to be pub­lished in print dur­ing 2021. (Eight more news­pa­pers hadn’t been pub­lished since 2020).

    Also, since the begin­ning of 2021, the ‘Vol­naye Hly­bokaye’ inde­pen­dent news­pa­per ter­mi­nat­ed its work for eco­nom­ic rea­sons after 26 years of its exis­tence.

    Deprived of any oppor­tu­ni­ty to pub­lish the print­ed ver­sions of news­pa­pers, most edi­to­r­i­al teams con­tin­ued their activ­i­ties online.

    The ‘Leader-Press’ news­pa­per was pub­lished in Sal­i­horsk (Min­sk region) dur­ing 28 years. The media out­let ter­mi­nat­ed its activ­i­ty on Octo­ber 1, 2021. A range of search­es was con­duct­ed at the edi­to­r­i­al office and at the own­ers’ apart­ments in the sum­mer of 2021. The edi­to­r­i­al addressed the news­pa­per read­ers as fol­lows: ‘It looks like any mate­r­i­al that truth­ful­ly cov­ers the events in the region or in the coun­try can be declared extrem­ist with all the ensu­ing con­se­quences. In this sit­u­a­tion, we can­not put our employ­ees at risk. There­fore, we are forced to ter­mi­nate the activ­i­ty of our media out­let.’

    The Russ­ian pub­lish­er of ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da’ took a deci­sion to close its rep­re­sen­ta­tion – ‘BelKP-PRESS’ Close Cor­po­ra­tion – in Belarus. The com­pa­ny dealt with the ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ news­pa­per pro­duc­tion since 1994. The clo­sure relat­ed to the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of its employ­ee, a jour­nal­ist Henadzi Mazhei­ka (see ‘Crim­i­nal Cas­es’ for details).


    Pros­e­cu­tion of inde­pen­dent press dis­trib­u­tors

    The sus­pen­sion of pub­li­ca­tion of inde­pen­dent print media was accom­pa­nied by the emer­gence of unreg­is­tered pub­li­ca­tions, which were pub­lished by activists. These pub­li­ca­tions most­ly con­tained reprints of con­tent from inde­pen­dent news Web­sites. The peo­ple involved in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of such news­pa­pers were pros­e­cut­ed and fined in ear­ly 2021.

    Thus, Yury Lak­t­siy­onau was fined 638 Belaru­sian rubles for the dis­tri­b­u­tion of ‘Hrodzien­sky Chas’ small-cir­cu­la­tion news­pa­per in Hrod­na on Feb­ru­ary 1, 2021. The peri­od­i­cal was dis­trib­uted through mail­box­es free of charge. (16 edi­tions of ‘Hrodzien­sky Chas’ news­pa­per have been pub­lished since August 2020.)

    Eight peo­ple, who dealt with pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of ‘Mahilouskiya Vest­ki’ unreg­is­tered news­pa­per, were detained in the city of Mahilou in Jan­u­ary – Feb­ru­ary 2021. 2000 copies of ‘Mahilouskiya Vest­ki’ peri­od­i­cal were seized from Aleh Pahy­ly at that. Most of the detainees were fined lat­er.

    Zmit­si­er Shashk­ou was detained while trans­port­ing 4000 copies of this news­pa­per on Feb­ru­ary 11, 2021. Con­se­quent­ly, he was sen­tenced to 10 days of arrest on admin­is­tra­tive charges for the alleged dis­obe­di­ence to the police and fined 1450 Belaru­sian rubles.

    Tat­siana Yukho was fined for dis­trib­ut­ing the unreg­is­tered ‘Vit­sieb­s­ki Ves­nik’ digest in Vit­sieb­sk on Feb­ru­ary 10, 2021. The police seized 500 copies of this peri­od­i­cal from her home. Two res­i­dents of Min­sk dis­trict were detained in March 2021, includ­ing the Direc­tor of a pri­vate print­ing house, Art­siom Fedasen­ka, and the admin­is­tra­tor of “Atoli­na” Telegram chan­nel, Pavel Yukhnevich. (15,000 copies of ‘protest’ news­pa­pers were found in P. Yukhnevich’s car.)

    Accord­ing to the Inves­tiga­tive Committee’s report, the detainees pro­duced more than 21,000 copies of ‘rad­i­cal’ news­pa­pers and more than 10,000 leaflets, which they planned to dis­trib­ute in the city of Min­sk as well as on the ter­ri­to­ries of Min­sk, Mahilou, Homiel, and Hrod­na regions. 

    A.Fedasenka and P. Yukhnevich were accused of pro­duc­ing and dis­trib­ut­ing ‘protest leaflets, stick­ers, and news­pa­pers’, as well as tak­ing part in march­es on Sun­days in August-Sep­tem­ber 2020. They were pre­sent­ed charges under two arti­cles of the Crim­i­nal Code, includ­ing Arti­cle 342 (par­tic­i­pa­tion in actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order) and Arti­cle 361 (dis­tri­b­u­tion of mate­ri­als, which con­tain calls for actions, aimed at caus­ing harm to the nation­al secu­ri­ty of Belarus). Each of them was sen­tenced to 4 years of impris­on­ment in Jan­u­ary 2022.



    Restric­tion of access to infor­ma­tion

    Inde­pen­dent media work­ers faced obsta­cles on the part of offi­cial author­i­ties, while cov­er­ing pub­lic events in the first half-year of 2021. Among oth­er, they were denied press cre­den­tials and access to the places of events. Also, they were detained and fined for the alleged par­tic­i­pa­tion in unau­tho­rized mass events.

    Thus, on Feb­ru­ary 19, 2021, the jour­nal­ists from TUT.by, Onlin­er, Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus, Bela­PAN, ‘Novy Chas’, and Office.life were denied accred­i­ta­tion for the tri­al of their col­league Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich and the inten­sive care doc­tor Art­siom Sarokin (see more details in the chap­ter on ‘Crim­i­nal Cas­es’).

    On March 23, 2021, only one inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist out of many – Stanis­lau Kor­shu­nau (‘Brest­skaya Gaze­ta’, TUT.by) was admit­ted to the court room dur­ing the hear­ing of the high-pro­file case on mass riots in Pin­sk, which alleged­ly took place on August 9, 2020.

    Inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists from Mahilou Ali­ak­san­dr Burak­ou and Uladz­imir Lapt­se­vich were detained, while leav­ing the square in front of Mahilou Region­al Court on May 12, 2021. The tri­al on the case of one of Belaru­sian Chris­t­ian Democ­ra­cy par­ty lead­ers, Pavel Seviarynets and oth­er polit­i­cal pris­on­ers start­ed in the closed court ses­sion there.

    Start­ing from July 2021, when the repres­sion against the inde­pen­dent press in Belarus reached its peak (see details in the chap­ter on ‘Per­se­cu­tion of Jour­nal­ists’), quite a few of inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists actu­al­ly lost the oppor­tu­ni­ty to use the jour­nal­ist’s right to access to infor­ma­tion, as their pub­li­ca­tions appeared to be out­lawed one way or anoth­er.


    Obsta­cles to for­eign media activ­i­ties

    For­eign cor­re­spon­dents faced prob­lems with obtain­ing press cre­den­tials from the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs after their revo­ca­tion from all for­eign jour­nal­ists on Octo­ber 2, 2020, due to the adop­tion of new accred­i­ta­tion rules.

    The sub­mit­ted claims for new accred­i­ta­tions in accor­dance with the new rules were left with­out atten­tion for months, despite the set 30-day terms for their con­sid­er­a­tion.

    The Min­istry rep­re­sen­ta­tives explained the sit­u­a­tion with the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic.

    At the same time, it is known that the press cre­den­tials were issued to Russ­ian media out­lets, such as Sput­nik and RIA Novosti. (Their jour­nal­ists were allowed to attend court ses­sions even if the doors for their col­leagues from oth­er media were closed.)

    On April 12, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion exclud­ed the Euronews TV chan­nel from the list of for­eign mass media that was per­mit­ted to dis­trib­ute their pro­duc­tion in Belarus. It hap­pened as soon as the pre­vi­ous­ly issued per­mis­sion expired.

    The offi­cial author­i­ties closed the cor­re­spon­dent office of ‘Euro­ra­dio’ in Belarus on July 5, 2021. It had oper­at­ed since 2009. Its jour­nal­ists were stripped of their press cre­den­tials along with oth­er col­leagues from for­eign media in Octo­ber 2020.

    On July 6, 2021, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus took a deci­sion to strip two Ukrain­ian TV chan­nels — UA and KVARTAL of their per­mits for broad­cast­ing TV pro­grams in Belarus. The deci­sion was ground­ed on the alleged vio­la­tion of adver­tis­ing law by the media out­lets.

    A jour­nal­ist of Kur­dish NRT TV Chan­nel Zhi­an Katarin Moberg wasn’t per­mit­ted to enter Belarus at the air­port of Min­sk on Novem­ber 22, 2021. The reporter is a Dan­ish cit­i­zen. And she came to cov­er the cri­sis with migrants at the Belaru­sian bor­der. How­ev­er, she was sent back on Novem­ber 23, 2021. The Bor­der Com­mit­tee of Belarus explained the refusal of entry with the absence of valid press cre­den­tials from the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs.



    The increas­ing state pro­pa­gan­da along­side the sup­pres­sion of inde­pen­dent media have become a pri­or­i­ty pol­i­cy of Belaru­sian gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ties since the time of pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2020. 

    Thus, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus spent 40,000 Belaru­sian rubles on a study, ded­i­cat­ed to “Devel­op­ment of sci­en­tif­ic and prac­ti­cal rec­om­men­da­tions and means of effec­tive strug­gle with the spread of destruc­tive infor­ma­tion con­tent in mod­ern real­i­ties.” The study was con­duct­ed by the Belaru­sian State Uni­ver­si­ty. It was aimed at prepar­ing a set of rec­om­men­da­tions for improv­ing the oper­a­tion of ‘the lead­ing media’, i.e., the state-owned media out­lets, as pre­sent­ed by Belaru­sian author­i­ties.

    A new res­o­lu­tion of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion entered into force on Jan­u­ary 15, 2021. It intro­duced incen­tive pay­ments to the employ­ees of bud­getary orga­ni­za­tions, sub­or­di­nat­ed to the gov­ern­men­tal agency, and bud­getary orga­ni­za­tions from the field of respon­si­bil­i­ty of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion, sub­or­di­nat­ed to local exec­u­tive and admin­is­tra­tive author­i­ties.

    Thus, the allowances for the com­plex­i­ty and stress of work were estab­lished for man­agers, spe­cial­ists and oth­er employ­ees of such orga­ni­za­tions, except for work­ing pro­fes­sions, since July 1, 2021. The allowances reached up to 50% of the salaries of these employ­ees. The amount of bonus increased from 5% to 20%. The amount of one-time recov­ery pay­ment increased, too.

    On July 30, 2021, Ali­ak­san­dr Lukashen­ka shared his vision of the state media pol­i­cy with the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of local author­i­ties:

    ‘Each chair­per­son of exec­u­tive com­mit­tee should have a clear idea of ​​the infor­ma­tion map of his / her dis­trict or city. The exist­ing media out­lets and resources. The edi­to­r­i­al pol­i­cy they imple­ment. The lev­el of their pub­lic sup­port. The deputy chair­per­son, who super­vis­es the issues of ide­ol­o­gy and infor­ma­tion, must know in per­son all jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, admin­is­tra­tors of Telegram chan­nels and chat rooms, who live and work in the dis­trict, and work with them indi­vid­u­al­ly. Not only should all work be done under your con­trol. Every­thing should be done with your per­mis­sion.’

    Sub­ject to the pro­pa­gan­da activ­i­ty of the state TV chan­nels, which used hate speech against the oppo­nents of the gov­ern­ment, the Euro­pean Broad­cast­ing Union (EBU) sus­pend­ed the mem­ber­ship of the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny in the orga­ni­za­tion on June 30, 2021.

    Con­se­quent­ly, the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny lost the pos­si­bil­i­ty to broad­cast com­pe­ti­tions in 18 dif­fer­ent sports since July 1, 2021. Also, the nation­al broad­cast­er was stripped of its right to take part in the Euro­vi­sion music con­test, denied sub­scrip­tion to the news feed, etc. The employ­ees of the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Broad­cast­ing Com­pa­ny lost their right to study at the EBU Acad­e­my.


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