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  • Attacks on journalists, bloggers and media workers in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine: 2017–2019

    The Justice for Journalists Foundation conduct monitoring of attacks and violations of media rights in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Public association "Belarusian Association of Journalists" has prepared an analytical report on Belarus.


    This report forms part three of a cycle of research stud­ies on attacks against media work­ers in the 12 post-Sovi­et coun­tries over the peri­od from 2017 through 2019. As used in this report, the term “media work­ers” refers to jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, cam­era oper­a­tors, pho­to­jour­nal­ists, and oth­er employ­ees and man­agers of tra­di­tion­al and unreg­is­tered media. This sec­tion of the study is devot­ed to Belarus, Rus­sia, and Ukraine.

    The report does not cov­er attacks against pro­fes­sion­al and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists in Crimea; sta­tis­tics on assaults in this region have yet to be incor­po­rat­ed into the Media Risk Map. Full infor­ma­tion about this top­ic can be found in the report Chronol­o­gy of press­ing the free­dom of speech in Crimea, put togeth­er by the Crimean Human Rights Group and the Human Rights Cen­tre ZMINA and pub­lished on Feb­ru­ary 9, 2020.

    Assaults on media work­ers in the three Slav­ic states are being exam­ined in a sin­gle report not only because of the geo­graph­ic prox­im­i­ty and cul­tur­al sim­i­lar­i­ty of these coun­tries, but also to make it more con­ve­nient to com­pare the meth­ods of sup­press­ing free­dom of speech that pre­vail in them.


    The data for the study have been obtained from open sources in the Eng­lish, Belaru­sian, Russ­ian, and Ukrain­ian lan­guages using the method of con­tent analy­sis. Lists of the main sources are pre­sent­ed in Annex­es 2–7.

    Based on fur­ther analy­sis of 3,063 inci­dents of assaults on pro­fes­sion­al and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, and oth­er media work­ers, as well as on the edi­to­r­i­al offices of tra­di­tion­al and online pub­li­ca­tions, three basic types of attacks have been iden­ti­fied:

    • Phys­i­cal attacks and threats to life, lib­er­ty, and health

    • Non-phys­i­cal and/or cyber-attacks and threats

    • Attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means

    Each of the types of attacks pre­sent­ed is fur­ther divid­ed into sub-cat­e­gories, a com­plete list of which is pre­sent­ed in Annex 1.


    The total com­bined pop­u­la­tion of Belarus, Rus­sia, and Ukraine num­bers near­ly 200 mil­lion peo­ple, which cor­re­sponds to approx­i­mate­ly 45% of the pop­u­la­tion of the Euro­pean Union. For a prop­er analy­sis of the risks of assaults on media work­ers, it would be advis­able to look at not the absolute num­bers of attacks, but at the rel­a­tive fig­ures: per 100 thou­sand peo­ple. Accord­ing to cal­cu­la­tions, jour­nal­ists from Belarus are sub­ject to the great­est risk of assault, although the risk of phys­i­cal assault is high­er in Ukraine.

    Belarus holds sec­ond place after Arme­nia among the 12 post-Sovi­et coun­tries in terms of the rel­a­tive num­ber of attacks against media work­ers per 100 thou­sand peo­ple, with a risk index of 11.4. The prin­ci­pal method of assaults on jour­nal­ists in Belarus are attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means – these com­prise 89% of the total. The prin­ci­pal source of dan­ger for media work­ers are the author­i­ties – above all the police and the courts. A “pack­age” form of attacks pre­dom­i­nates in Belarus, in the course of which a media work­er is detained short-term, tried, and arrest­ed for 72 hours and sen­tenced to pay­ment of a fine. The most fre­quent “admin­is­tra­tive offence” is coop­er­a­tion by Belaru­sian free­lance jour­nal­ists with for­eign media with­out For­eign Min­istry accred­i­ta­tion. Some­times search­es of a journalist’s work premis­es and res­i­dence with con­fis­ca­tion of equip­ment and doc­u­ments form a com­po­nent part of such a “pack­age attack”.

    Rus­sia, along with Uzbek­istan, Tajik­istan, and Turk­menistan, exhibits indi­ca­tors of rel­a­tive risk of being sub­ject­ed to assault that are not high for post-Sovi­et coun­tries – 0.77. How­ev­er, for Moscow, with a pop­u­la­tion of 12.5 mil­lion per­sons, this risk com­pris­es a con­sid­er­ably high­er 2.95. It may be assumed that such num­bers can be explained by the pecu­liar­i­ties of mon­i­tor­ing assaults in this coun­try. Rus­sia stands out with its high num­ber of deaths among media work­ers: 15 peo­ple per­ished as the result of mur­ders, acci­dents, beat­ings, and sui­cides, a num­ber twice as high as in all 11 post-Sovi­et coun­tries tak­en togeth­er. The most wide­spread type of assaults on media work­ers in the coun­try are attacks via judi­cial and eco­nom­ic means. The num­ber of record­ed short-term deten­tions of jour­nal­ists by police in the peri­od cov­ered in this study exceed­ed 200 inci­dents, while 40 jour­nal­ists were sen­tenced to var­i­ous terms of depri­va­tion of lib­er­ty.

    In Ukraine, the rel­a­tive index of attacks against jour­nal­ists com­pris­es near­ly 2 per 100 thou­sand peo­ple, which puts the coun­try in sixth place among the 12 post-Sovi­et coun­tries in terms of degree of risk for media work­ers, between Kyr­gyzs­tan and Kaza­khstan. It should be not­ed that in zones of com­bat activ­i­ties – Donet­sk and Luhan­sk Oblasts – 43 assaults on jour­nal­ists have been record­ed, while in Kiev Oblast the num­ber is 385. Near­ly 28% of all record­ed assaults on media work­ers in Ukraine con­sist of attacks of a phys­i­cal nature (beat­ings, abduc­tions, attempt­ed mur­ders). More­over, in more than half of the cas­es, those com­mit­ting the assaults were not con­nect­ed with the author­i­ties. In this coun­try, the pre­vail­ing meth­ods for pres­sur­ing jour­nal­ists are bul­ly­ing and intim­i­da­tion, includ­ing in cyber­space, as well as dam­ag­ing and seizure of prop­er­ty and doc­u­ments. The decline in the over­all num­ber of attacks from 357 in 2017 to 245 in 2019 gives cause for opti­mism.


    Analy­sis of the risks for media work­ers, as well as of their geog­ra­phy, fre­quen­cy, and sources, is a nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion for work­ing out meth­ods of pro­tec­tion and safe­guards. Even tak­ing into account the lim­i­ta­tions asso­ci­at­ed with the abil­i­ty to track assaults on media work­ers, analy­sis of the data obtained allows us to offer sev­er­al rec­om­men­da­tions for more effec­tive­ly with­stand­ing attacks in each of these coun­tries.

    • In Belarus, the source of the attacks on jour­nal­ists in the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of cas­es is the author­i­ties, while the func­tion of the courts usu­al­ly comes down to rub­ber-stamp­ing a repres­sive deci­sion that has already been adopt­ed. That said, there is a rather effec­tive sys­tem of mon­i­tor­ing attacks in place in Belarus, a coun­try where the pres­i­dent has been in office for more than 26 years already and inde­pen­dent media inside the coun­try have been prac­ti­cal­ly anni­hi­lat­ed while Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists are sub­ject­ed to harsh admin­is­tra­tive and even crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign pub­li­ca­tions.

    In these con­di­tions, pub­lic dis­clo­sure of inci­dents of assaults on jour­nal­ists, draw­ing pub­lic atten­tion, pay­ment of fines, and in the event of repeat­ed tar­get­ed attacks, leav­ing the coun­try and con­tin­u­ing to work abroad, present them­selves as the most effec­tive meth­ods of pro­tec­tion.

    • In Rus­sia, the risks for media work­ers are increas­ing with each pass­ing year and come above all from the author­i­ties, who reg­u­lar­ly deprive pro­fes­sion­al and cit­i­zen jour­nal­ists of lib­er­ty and beat them up. Besides that, the adop­tion of ever more repres­sive laws is expand­ing the arse­nal of meth­ods of “judi­cial” influ­ence on inde­pen­dent media, com­pelling an ever greater num­ber of jour­nal­ists to leave the pro­fes­sion. In the mean­time, the num­ber of fatal inci­dents, attempt­ed mur­ders, beat­ings, and tor­ture of jour­nal­ists grow­ing, while the inves­ti­ga­tions of these inci­dents remain at an unsat­is­fac­to­ry lev­el.

    Record­ing the var­i­ous types of attacks on inde­pen­dent pub­li­ca­tions and jour­nal­ists has impor­tant sig­nif­i­cance for a more pre­cise assess­ment of the risks. Draw­ing pub­lic atten­tion to vio­la­tions of the rights of media work­ers remains the most effec­tive method of pro­tect­ing Russia’s jour­nal­ists. Besides that, it is extreme­ly impor­tant to pro­vide them with time­ly and pro­fes­sion­al legal assis­tance. Inas­much as one fifth of all attacks are con­nect­ed with beat­ings of jour­nal­ists, train­ing cours­es on phys­i­cal secu­ri­ty would allow for a reduc­tion in the risk of phys­i­cal assaults.

    • In Ukraine, the over­all num­ber of attacks on jour­nal­ists is drop­ping, but the risk of phys­i­cal assaults nonethe­less remains high. Mon­i­tor­ing of threats and non-phys­i­cal attacks is effi­cient­ly organ­ised in this coun­try, which is instru­men­tal in inten­si­fy­ing vig­i­lance on the part of jour­nal­ists. It is per­haps on account of this that it is prov­ing pos­si­ble to pre­vent some por­tion of the more egre­gious crimes. That said, the work of the courts in inves­ti­gat­ing crimes against jour­nal­ists and find­ing and pun­ish­ing the per­pe­tra­tors does not seem to be effec­tive.

    In such con­di­tions, the work of improv­ing the mon­i­tor­ing of assaults ought to be con­tin­ued, as should the inform­ing of broad stra­ta of soci­ety about the sit­u­a­tion and the adop­tion of the nec­es­sary mea­sures of pro­tec­tion, includ­ing pro­tec­tion by the state. Besides that, train­ing cours­es on phys­i­cal and cyber secu­ri­ty for jour­nal­ists have proven use­ful.

    The Jus­tice for Jour­nal­ists Foun­da­tion, togeth­er with its part­ners and experts, car­ries out week­ly mon­i­tor­ing of attacks against media work­ers in all post-Sovi­et coun­tries exclud­ing the Baltic states, the results of which are pub­lished on the Media Risk Map in both Russ­ian and Eng­lish. The avail­able data cov­ers the peri­od from 2017 onwards.



    1,079 inci­dents of attacks/threats in rela­tion to pro­fes­sion­al and cit­i­zen media work­ers and edi­to­r­i­al offices of tra­di­tion­al and online pub­li­ca­tions in Belarus were iden­ti­fied and analysed in the course of the study. The data were obtained from open sources in the Russ­ian, Belaru­sian, and Eng­lish lan­guages using the method of con­tent analy­sis. A list of the main sources is pre­sent­ed in Annex 2.

    1. Attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means are the most wide­spread form of pres­sure on jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, and media work­ers in Belarus. 957 inci­dents in this cat­e­go­ry were record­ed.

    2. The most preva­lent method of attack via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means is fines for coop­er­a­tion with for­eign media with­out For­eign Min­istry accred­i­ta­tion. The num­ber of inci­dents in this sub-cat­e­go­ry is 236.

    3. The num­ber of phys­i­cal attacks in Belarus is very low in com­par­i­son with oth­er coun­tries in the post-Sovi­et space. 26 attacks in this cat­e­go­ry were record­ed over the peri­od cov­ered in this study.

    4. The BelTA case is the most high-pro­file crim­i­nal case to be brought against a media work­ers in Belarus in the years 2017–2019.

    5. Most often it was free­lance jour­nal­ists work­ing for the satel­lite tele­vi­sion chan­nel Bel­sat who were sub­ject­ed to attacks – in 623 of the 1,079 record­ed cas­es.


    Reg­is­tra­tion of print media in Belarus, just like tele­vi­sion and radio broad­cast­ers, is manda­to­ry and by license, and is exer­cised by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion. Accord­ing to data pro­vid­ed by the agency, 1,614 print media out­lets were reg­is­tered in Belarus as of Jan­u­ary 1, 2020. Of these, 435 print pub­li­ca­tions are state-owned, which allows the Belaru­sian author­i­ties to state that pri­vate media pre­dom­i­nate in the coun­try. How­ev­er, the vast major­i­ty of non-state-owned print media are strict­ly enter­tain­ment and adver­tis­ing. Accord­ing to the data of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ), there are no more than 30 reg­is­tered non-state-owned media out­lets of a socio-polit­i­cal nature. Near­ly half of these were removed from the state’s news­pa­per sub­scrip­tion and retail dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works as far back as 2005, and only in 2017 were they put back on the dis­tri­b­u­tion lists of the state monop­oly dis­tri­b­u­tion enter­pris­es (approx­i­mate­ly 15 pub­li­ca­tions had ceased pub­li­ca­tion by this time).

    At the same time, state-owned media receive not only admin­is­tra­tive sup­port and var­i­ous kinds of pref­er­ences, but also pub­lic fund­ing giv­en out on a non-com­pet­i­tive basis. In 2019, the sum of such fund­ing exceed­ed 72 mil­lion US dol­lars. The bulk of these funds (over 50 mil­lion dol­lars) were ear­marked for the fund­ing of the Bel­tel­era­dio­com­pa­ny [the state-owned broad­cast­er].

    The sit­u­a­tion with tele­vi­sion and radio broad­cast­ing in Belarus meets demo­c­ra­t­ic stan­dards even less. Of the 270 reg­is­tered tele­vi­sion and radio pro­grammes, the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty (188) belong to the state. The remain­ing 82 non-state-owned tele­vi­sion and radio sta­tions are under the com­plete con­trol of the author­i­ties, both local and nation­al, by virtue of the reg­is­tra­tion and licens­ing sys­tem.

    For­eign sta­tions dis­rupt the state’s monop­oly on broad­cast­ing. Radio Lib­er­ty, Euro­pean Radio for Belarus, Radio Racy­ja, and the satel­lite tele­vi­sion chan­nel Bel­sat play a par­tic­u­lar role (the lat­ter three media out­lets list­ed are reg­is­tered in Poland). Their pro­grammes are aimed at Belaru­sians and are pre­pared pri­mar­i­ly by Belaru­sians. How­ev­er, nei­ther Bel­satnor Radio Racy­ja have legal sta­tus in Belarus, despite efforts to open news offices and obtain accred­i­ta­tion for their jour­nal­ists. Free­lancers work­ing with them come under con­stant pres­sure on the part of the author­i­ties. Since 2014, they are being fined for “vio­la­tion of the order for pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of media out­put” (Arti­cle 22.9 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offences). Based on police reports, in the years 2017–2019 free­lance jour­nal­ists were fined 231 times for work­ing with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tion, for an over­all sum equiv­a­lent to near­ly 100 thou­sand US dol­lars. For ref­er­ence, the aver­age month­ly salary in Belarus is around 500 dol­lars.

    The inter­net remains the freest infor­ma­tion space in Belarus. Accord­ing to data from a study con­duct­ed by the Infor­ma­tion­al-and-Ana­lyt­i­cal Cen­tre under the president’s admin­is­tra­tion, in 2017–2018 around 60 per­cent of respon­dents were receiv­ing their news from the inter­net (72% from tele­vi­sion), while among young peo­ple this per­cent­age was sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er. More­over, the major­i­ty of the ten most pop­u­lar inter­net sites is made up of non-state-owned sites.

    The Belaru­sian author­i­ties react­ed to the grow­ing sig­nif­i­cance of the Inter­net by tight­en­ing con­trol over it. At the end of 2017 and the start of 2018, by deci­sion of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion, two pop­u­lar news sites in Belarus were blocked: Belorussky par­ti­zan [Belaru­sian Par­ti­san] and Khar­tiya 97 [Char­ter 97]. In 2018, crim­i­nal cas­es were opened against key play­ers in this sphere (most notably the “BelTA case”; see Sec­tion 5 “Attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means”), and sev­er­al pop­u­lar region­al blog­gers came under pres­sure (in the form of crim­i­nal cas­es, admin­is­tra­tive pros­e­cu­tion, and threats). Changes were intro­duced to leg­is­la­tion to tight­en state reg­u­la­tion of the Belaru­sian seg­ment of the World Wide Web. In par­tic­u­lar, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of users of inter­net sites was made manda­to­ry, pre-mod­er­a­tion of com­ments was effec­tive­ly intro­duced, and the cul­pa­bil­i­ty of web­site own­ers was increased. The new law allows for the vol­un­tary reg­is­tra­tion of inter­net sites as media out­lets (online pub­li­ca­tions), but this reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure has remained cost­ly and com­pli­cat­ed. Despite the fact that inter­net sites not reg­is­tered as online pub­li­ca­tions are not now con­sid­ered media out­lets, and their jour­nal­ists can­not enjoy the cor­re­spond­ing sta­tus, only 6 non-state-owned sites had gone through reg­is­tra­tion at the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion as of Jan­u­ary 1, 2020 due to the com­plex­i­ty of the reg­is­tra­tion require­ments and the unclear ben­e­fits to be gained from this reg­is­tra­tion in the cur­rent cir­cum­stances.

    In the annu­al World Press Free­dom Index of Reporters With­out Bor­ders for 2020, Belarus ranks 153rd out of 180 coun­tries.



    Fig­ure 1 presents a quan­ti­ta­tive analy­sis of the three main types of attack per­pe­trat­ed against jour­nal­ists in Belarus in the peri­od from 2017 to 2019. The prin­ci­pal type of attack against jour­nal­ists, blog­gers, and media work­ers were attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means. These com­prised 88% of the over­all num­ber of attacks cap­tured in this study: 957 out of 1079.

    The num­ber of attacks of this type cor­re­lat­ed with the change in the country’s polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion. The increase in protest sen­ti­ments and mass demon­stra­tions in Belarus also gave rise to inten­si­fied pres­sure on the media, jour­nal­ists, and blog­gers cov­er­ing them. Thus, the peak of short-term deten­tions of jour­nal­ist (93 peo­ple) in the peri­od cov­ered in this study occurred in 2017, when mass demon­stra­tions against an unpop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial decree regard­ing the estab­lish­ment of a spe­cial tax for unem­ployed peo­ple took place in all of the regions of the coun­try.

    Dur­ing the peri­od cov­ered in this study, it was most often jour­nal­ists from the satel­lite tele­vi­sion chan­nel Bel­sat who were the tar­get of attacks – 623 out of the 1,079 record­ed inci­dents. A num­ber of jour­nal­ists from the tele­vi­sion chan­nel expe­ri­enced sys­tem­at­ic pres­sure on the part of the author­i­ties: Kon­stan­tin Zhukovsky (76), Olha Chay­chits (59), Andrey Kozel (40), Alexan­dr Levchuk (36), Andrey Tolchin (34), Eka­te­ri­na Andreye­va (33), Dmit­ry Lupach (32), Milana Kharitono­va (31), Lar­isa Shchiryako­va (29), Sergey Kovalev (22), Lyubov Buryano­va (Lune­va) (19), Sergey Kvarchuk (16), Iri­na Orekhovskaya (13), Ali­na Skrabuno­va (12), and Alexan­dr Borozenko (11).


    he num­ber of phys­i­cal attacks on jour­nal­ists in the peri­od cov­ered in this study was com­par­a­tive­ly low at 26. As has already been not­ed, the major­i­ty of them (16) occurred dur­ing 2017, when mass protest actions were tak­ing place in Belarus.

    Most often, the jour­nal­ists were sub­ject­ed to vio­lence dur­ing short-term deten­tion or obstruc­tion of their pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ty. Appear­ing as the main aggres­sors were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the author­i­ties (in 84% of the inci­dents), first and fore­most police per­son­nel. Thus, in Min­sk on March 25, 2017, dur­ing the tra­di­tion­al Free­dom Day oppo­si­tion demon­stra­tion, 5 jour­nal­ists were beat­en up by secu­ri­ty per­son­nel, includ­ing a British jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing the protest action.

    Most often, the vic­tims of phys­i­cal attacks became jour­nal­ists work­ing with the Bel­sat tele­vi­sion chan­nel – 15 of the 25 cas­es. Sub­ject­ed to phys­i­cal pres­sure five times dur­ing the peri­od cov­ered in this study was Kon­stan­tin Zhukovsky, a jour­nal­ist from Gomel, who holds the record for the num­ber of fines issued to him:

    • In July 2017, Zhukovsky was detained short-term by employ­ees of the traf­fic police (the state auto­mo­bile inspec­torate) when he was return­ing from a court where he had been cov­er­ing the pro­ceed­ings. The jour­nal­ist was hand­cuffed to a tree.

    • In August 2017, dur­ing a video shoot, he was sprayed in the face with an aerosol sub­stance by a per­son who turned out to be a man­age­ment employ­ee of a local pig farm. Zhukovsky was hos­pi­talised.

    • In July 2018, the jour­nal­ist suf­fered a hyper­ten­sive cri­sis after being detained short-term on a charge of pet­ty hooli­gan­ism and tak­en to the local police sta­tion and then to court.

    • In Novem­ber 2018, the jour­nal­ist was sum­moned to the mil­i­tary draft com­mis­sari­at for a med­ical exam­i­na­tion. He had already under­gone a med­ical exam­i­na­tion less than six months ear­li­er but nev­er had been sub­se­quent­ly called up for train­ing.

    • In Jan­u­ary 2019, Zhukovsky was, in his words, assault­ed by uniden­ti­fied per­sons on a road in Gomel Oblast.

    At the end of Jan­u­ary 2019, Zhukovsky fled Belarus and request­ed polit­i­cal asy­lum in one of the coun­tries of West­ern Europe.

    In Feb­ru­ary 2018, the jour­nal­ist Andrei Kozel, who like­wise worked with the Bel­sat tele­vi­sion chan­nel and had been charged with admin­is­tra­tive offens­es on numer­ous occa­sions, was beat­en up for attempt­ing to film the vote-count­ing at a polling sta­tion. The jour­nal­ist was bru­tal­ly detained short-term and placed in deten­tion, where he con­tin­ued to get beat­en up, and was sub­se­quent­ly charged with an admin­is­tra­tive offence, alleged­ly for resist­ing employ­ees of the police.

    At the start of 2020, Kozel was forced to leave Belarus due to the con­stant pres­sure.


    The most preva­lent kinds of non-phys­i­cal and/or cyber-attacks and threats over the peri­od cov­ered in this study were bul­ly­ing, intim­i­da­tion, pres­sure, and threats of vio­lence and death, includ­ing in cyber­space. They com­prised more than half (48) of the total num­ber of record­ed cas­es (95). The sec­ond most preva­lent method of non-phys­i­cal pres­sure is dam­age to or seizure of prop­er­ty, vehi­cles, equip­ment, or doc­u­ments (16). Jour­nal­ists encoun­tered the high­est num­ber of attacks of this type (9) in 2018.

    In Belarus, as in Rus­sia and the coun­tries of Cen­tral Asia, one of the most preva­lent meth­ods of attack is pres­sure on a media work­er by way of non-phys­i­cal pres­sure on rel­a­tives and loved ones:

    • In Octo­ber 2017, the par­ents of Bel­sat jour­nal­ist Alexan­dr Zalevsky were threat­ened over the phone by a stranger who iden­ti­fied him­self as a KGB lieu­tenant.

    • In Feb­ru­ary 2018, a search was car­ried out at the flat of YouTube blog­ger Stepan Putilo’s par­ents. Secu­ri­ty per­son­nel seized a note­book com­put­er and a video cam­era. Puti­lo, who was study­ing in Poland at that moment, was incul­pat­ed under Arti­cle 368 of the Crim­i­nal Code (insult­ing the pres­i­dent).

    • In Sep­tem­ber 2019, Petr Kuznetsov, founder of Homel web­site Sil­nye Novosti [Strong News], com­plained that he per­son­al­ly and his rel­a­tives and acquain­tances are con­stant­ly hav­ing prob­lems when cross­ing the bor­der.

    In a num­ber of sit­u­a­tions, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the author­i­ties threat­en jour­nal­ists with tak­ing chil­dren from the fam­i­ly:

    • In July 2017, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the author­i­ties threat­ened Bel­sat jour­nal­ists Olha Chay­chits and Andrey Kozel that they would file a com­plaint with child pro­tec­tion ser­vices regard­ing their chil­dren.

    • In April 2017, they threat­ened to reg­is­ter the fam­i­ly of Bel­sat jour­nal­ist Lar­isa Shchiryako­va as indi­gent and to remove the child from the fam­i­ly.

    Cyber-attacks are a less preva­lent method. Dur­ing the peri­od cov­ered in this study, 5 cas­es of hack­ing and DDoS attacks and 7 inci­dents asso­ci­at­ed with break­ing into social media accounts were record­ed.


    Fig­ure 4 presents a gen­er­al analy­sis of attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means. 957 attacks in this cat­e­go­ry were record­ed dur­ing the peri­od from 2017 through 2019. The top 3 meth­ods of pres­sure include: admin­is­tra­tive offences and fines; courts and court tri­als; and short-term deten­tions. In 942 out of the 957 record­ed attacks in this cat­e­go­ry (i.e. 98% of the inci­dents), appear­ing as the “aggres­sors” were rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the author­i­ties.

    The most fre­quent rea­son for the attacks was the coop­er­a­tion of Belaru­sian free­lance jour­nal­ists with for­eign media with­out For­eign Min­istry accred­i­ta­tion. Based on police reports, the courts fined jour­nal­ists in accor­dance with Part 2 of Arti­cle 22.9 of the Code of Admin­is­tra­tive Offences, which pre­scribes cul­pa­bil­i­ty for the ille­gal pro­duc­tion and/or dis­tri­b­u­tion of media out­put. 2018 became the “peak” year, when jour­nal­ists were held admin­is­tra­tive­ly liable under this arti­cle no few­er than 122 times (more than in the pre­vi­ous four years com­bined). The over­all sum of the fines for the year exceed­ed 43 thou­sand euros.

    In most of the cas­es, the fines were issued to jour­nal­ists work­ing with the Bel­sat satel­lite tele­vi­sion chan­nel. Bel­sat is a part of the struc­ture of Pol­ish Tele­vi­sion but posi­tions itself as Belarus’s first inde­pen­dent tele­vi­sion chan­nel. All told, jour­nal­ists and employ­ees of the Bel­sat tele­vi­sion chan­nel were sub­ject­ed to attacks via judi­cial and/or eco­nom­ic means a total of 574 times dur­ing the peri­od cov­ered in this study.

    In March 2017 and April 2019, search­es with con­fis­ca­tion of equip­ment were car­ried out under var­i­ous pre­texts in the Bel­sat tele­vi­sion channel’s unreg­is­tered Min­sk news office. One of the pre­texts was an accu­sa­tion of unau­tho­rised use by Bel­sat of its name (there is a com­mer­cial enter­prise of the same name oper­at­ing in Belarus). Jour­nal­ists were assert­ing that after the seizure of the equip­ment, police employ­ees were affix­ing a Bel­sat stick­er on their gear, which lat­er served as grounds for its con­fis­ca­tion on the pre­text of trade­mark infringe­ment.

    Crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists, media edi­tors, and blog­gers (and the search­es, inter­ro­ga­tions, and arrests asso­ci­at­ed with this) was the harsh­est method of pres­sure. More­over, in a num­ber of instances, the crim­i­nal cas­es were not for­mal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with free­dom of expres­sion. The “Reg­num case”, “BelTA case”, and the crim­i­nal case against head of inde­pen­dent news agency Bela­PAN Alexan­dr Lipai caused the biggest pub­lic out­cry.

    • The “Reg­num case”: In Feb­ru­ary 2018, the Min­sk City Court issued a guilty ver­dict in a crim­i­nal case against three Belaru­sian authors who had been pub­lished in Russ­ian media: Yury Pavlovets, Dmit­ry Alimkin, and Sergey Shiptenko. The court found them guilty of delib­er­ate acts aimed at incit­ing hate between nation­al­i­ties com­mit­ted by a group of indi­vid­u­als, and sen­tenced them to five years of depri­va­tion of lib­er­ty, with the serv­ing of the sen­tence delayed by three years. The con­vict­ed par­ties were released in the court­room. If they do not com­mit vio­la­tions of pub­lic order and will be car­ry­ing out the court’s direc­tives dur­ing the three-year delayed-sen­tence peri­od, the court may release them from serv­ing their sen­tences. The pre­text for ini­ti­at­ing the “Reg­num case” became a Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion appeal to the Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee regard­ing fea­tures of extrem­ism alleged­ly dis­cov­ered in these authors’ pub­li­ca­tions. The defen­dants were held in cus­tody for 14 months – from the moment of their short-term deten­tion in Decem­ber 2016.

    • The crim­i­nal case against Alexan­dr (Ales) Lipai: In June 2018, a crim­i­nal case was opened in rela­tion to Alexan­dr Lipai, head of lead­ing Belaru­sian inde­pen­dent news agency Bela­PAN, in con­nec­tion with wil­ful income tax eva­sion in a par­tic­u­lar­ly large amount in the years 2016–2017. A search was con­duct­ed of Lipai’s flat; doc­u­ments and pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment were seized. Belaru­sian human rights organ­i­sa­tions claimed that there was a polit­i­cal under­cur­rent to the case and asso­ci­at­ed it with a gen­er­al ten­den­cy of increas­ing pres­sure on non-state-owned media and Inter­net sites in Belarus. On August 23, 2018, Ales Lipai died of can­cer at the age of 52. The crim­i­nal case against him was dropped fol­low­ing his death.

    • The “BelTA case”: In August 2018, raids were car­ried out at the edi­to­r­i­al offices of the Bela­PAN news com­pa­ny, the By web por­tal, and sev­er­al oth­er media out­lets, as well as in the flats of a num­ber of their employ­ees. Around 20 jour­nal­ists were detained short-term and inter­ro­gat­ed by inves­ti­ga­tors. 8 were sent to a pre-tri­al tem­po­rary deten­tion “iso­la­tor” for a term of up to 72 hours. Serv­ing as the rea­son for the large-scale “spe­cial op” was the unsanc­tioned use by some jour­nal­ists of pass­words to the sub­scrip­tion feed of the gov­ern­ment agency BelTA’s web­site. It should be not­ed that the BelTA web­site mate­ri­als are open­ly acces­si­ble free of charge and were post­ed by the media out­lets that were now under pres­sure in con­sid­er­a­tion of all the rules estab­lished by BelTA. Nev­er­the­less, crim­i­nal cas­es on unsanc­tioned access to com­put­er infor­ma­tion entail­ing the caus­ing of sig­nif­i­cant harm were ini­ti­at­ed in rela­tion to 15 jour­nal­ists. At the end of 2018, crim­i­nal cas­es in rela­tion to 14 jour­nal­ists were dropped and they were cit­ed for admin­is­tra­tive vio­la­tions in the form of huge fines and com­pul­so­ry pay­ment of indem­ni­fi­ca­tion to state-owned media out­lets – BelTA and the pres­i­den­tial administration’s news­pa­per SB. Belarus segod­nya. The only defen­dant to be held crim­i­nal­ly liable became Mari­na Zolo­to­va, edi­tor-in-chief of the inter­net por­tal Tut.By. Notably, she was charged under a dif­fer­ent arti­cle – fail­ure to act by an offi­cial. In March 2019, the court found Zolo­to­va guilty and sen­tenced her to a fine of 7,650 Belaru­sian rou­bles (more than 3,000 euros at the Nation­al Bank exchange rate).

    Among the most seri­ous inter­net-relat­ed vio­la­tions, the block­ing of pop­u­lar inter­net sites that cov­er socio-polit­i­cal top­ics ought to be point­ed out. There were two such block­ings, and both became high-pro­file. Both inter­net sites were accused of dis­trib­ut­ing pro­hib­it­ed infor­ma­tion (includ­ing on the con­duct­ing of unsanc­tioned mass demon­stra­tions). But not only were they not issued any warn­ings that they were break­ing the law or demands to remove spe­cif­ic mate­ri­als, they did not even know what mate­ri­als specif­i­cal­ly had served as the grounds for their being blocked in Belarus. The web­sites con­tin­ue their activ­i­ty fol­low­ing a change of their domain exten­sions:

    • In Decem­ber 2017, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion adopt­ed a deci­sion on restrict­ing access to the Belorussky par­ti­zan web­site, the founder of which was the well-known jour­nal­ist Pavel Sheremet, who had been work­ing in Ukraine in recent years and trag­i­cal­ly died there in 2016.

    • In Jan­u­ary 2018, access was restrict­ed to anoth­er pop­u­lar web­site, Khar­tiya 97, whose edi­to­r­i­al staff has been work­ing in Poland in recent years (after the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of edi­tor-in-chief Natalia Rad­i­na and a num­ber of web­site employ­ees on charges of organ­is­ing mass dis­or­ders fol­low­ing the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions).

    Overview of attacks on jour­nal­ists in Ukraine and Rus­sia HERE.

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