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    The Pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in Belarus were announced on May 8th and end­ed on August 9, 2020.  Mass protest actions start­ed in the coun­try as soon as the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mit­tee announced their offi­cial results. The protest actions were severe­ly sup­pressed by secu­ri­ty forces. Over 7,000 peo­ple were detained dur­ing the first three days of protests. Quite a few of them were sub­ject­ed to cru­el and humil­i­at­ing treat­ment. It evoked a new wave of protests that has been last­ing for three months. The par­tic­i­pants of protest actions urge the author­i­ties to con­duct new elec­tions, to release polit­i­cal pris­on­ers from cus­tody, to ter­mi­nate vio­lence and pun­ish the peo­ple, who are guilty of its use.

    The offi­cial author­i­ties rein­forced abrupt­ly their pres­sure on mass media, jour­nal­ists and blog­gers dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign. Since the begin­ning of 2020 till May 8, when the elec­tions were appoint­ed, the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists reg­is­tered 23 cas­es, when jour­nal­ists’ rights were vio­lat­ed. At the same time, the BAJ Mon­i­tor­ing Ser­vice reg­is­tered over 400 cas­es of the kind after the date till Octo­ber 25, 2020.

    The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of attacks on jour­nal­ists hap­pened dur­ing the post-elec­tion peri­od. The rep­re­sen­ta­tives of law-enforce­ment agen­cies act­ed as aggres­sors prac­ti­cal­ly all the time.

     The arbi­trary deten­tions and arrests of jour­nal­ists were often accom­pa­nied with the use of force and result­ed in dam­age and seizure of pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment, as well as delet­ing of pre­pared video-mate­ri­als. 

    Three female jour­nal­ists were injured with rub­ber bul­lets dur­ing imple­men­ta­tion of their jour­nal­is­tic duties.

    Oth­er gross vio­la­tions of free­dom of expres­sion, con­nect­ed to the elec­tion cam­paign and fol­low-up protests, includ­ed:

    • dis­abling access to the Inter­net in the after­math of elec­tions in Belarus and con­stant restric­tion of mobile Inter­net con­nec­tions dur­ing the days after the elec­tions, espe­cial­ly dur­ing mass protest actions;

    • restric­tion of access to the Web-sites that cov­er polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion and the unof­fi­cial ban on print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of four non-state news­pa­pers;

    • the actions of the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus on depriv­ing the largest Belaru­sian Web-por­tal TUT.by of its media sta­tus;

    • recog­ni­tion of the NEXTA Telegram chan­nel and its logo as extrem­ist mate­ri­als;

    • denial of accred­i­ta­tion to the for­eign cor­re­spon­dents, who arrived to cov­er the elec­tions, revo­ca­tion of accred­i­ta­tion of all for­eign media cor­re­spon­dents, who pre­vi­ous­ly had it.


    Deten­tions and Arrests of Jour­nal­ists. Vio­lence against Jour­nal­ists

    The jour­nal­ists and mass media faced the harsh­est vio­la­tions of their rights dur­ing the post-elec­tion peri­od, while cov­er­ing the protest actions. The BAJ reg­is­tered over 300 cas­es of deten­tion of jour­nal­ists for imple­men­ta­tion of their pro­fes­sion­al duties with­in the peri­od between August 9, 2020 and Octo­ber 25, 2020. The jour­nal­ists suf­fered from vio­lence at the moment of deten­tion and the con­se­quent tor­tures in 57 cas­es. The arbi­trary deten­tions took place in Min­sk and prac­ti­cal­ly in all regions of Belarus.

    At least three cas­es of the use of firearms against the female jour­nal­ists, who cov­ered the protest actions, were reg­is­tered in Min­sk.  Con­se­quent­ly, the jour­nal­ists were bad­ly injured that led to their long treat­ment in hos­pi­tal.

    Emi­lie van Out­eren, a cor­re­spon­dent of nrc.nl media out­let from the Nether­lands was injured while cov­er­ing the protests on August 9th.  She was wound­ed in the thigh by an unknown shell.

    A jour­nal­ist of ‘Nasha Niva’ Natalia Lub­neuskaya was wound­ed by a rub­ber bul­let, when one of law enforce­ment offi­cers stopped 10 meters from a group of jour­nal­ists in blue ‘Press’ vests and shot the reporter in the leg. The reporter’s med­ical treat­ment took more than a month. A jour­nal­ist Iry­na Arak­houskaya was wound­ed by a rub­ber bul­let, while report­ing from a quar­ter close to ‘Pushkin­skaya’ metro sta­tion in Min­sk.

    The police was delib­er­ate­ly tar­get­ing jour­nal­ists in many cas­es. Thus, the law enforce­ment offi­cers detained no less than 47 jour­nal­ists, includ­ing for­eign reporters, in Min­sk and Brest on August 27, 2020. All of them were tak­en to dis­trict police sta­tions. The police was delet­ing the filmed mate­ri­als and threat­en­ing to dam­age or destroy the jour­nal­ists’ pro­fes­sion­al equip­ment.

    The police detained six reporters of TUT.by, Bela­PAN News Agency, and ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ news­pa­per on Sep­tem­ber 1st.  The jour­nal­ists per­formed their pro­fes­sion­al duties, rep­re­sent­ing the offi­cial­ly reg­is­tered media in the coun­try. They wore vests with the ‘Press’ inscrip­tion and had badges and offi­cial IDs with them. Nev­er­the­less, they were accused of par­tic­i­pat­ing in an unau­tho­rized mass protest action and tak­en into cus­tody, where they spent the night before the tri­al.

    The courts returned the police reports con­cern­ing the jour­nal­ists twice for revi­sion. Nev­er­the­less, the detained reporters weren’t released from cus­tody. All of them were tak­en to a pre-tri­al iso­la­tion ward, and con­se­quent­ly, the court found them guilty and sen­tenced to 3 days of arrest, which they had already spent in cus­tody by then.

    The courts sen­tenced jour­nal­ists 48 times to 3 – 15 days of arrest on the alleged admin­is­tra­tive charges in the post-elec­tion peri­od.

     Almost all court judge­ments were passed on the basis of wit­ness state­ments by police offi­cers, whose per­son­al details were often clas­si­fied and whose faces were hid­den. Their tes­ti­monies often con­tra­dict­ed the doc­u­ments pro­vid­ed on the jour­nal­ists’ sta­tus as well as video mate­ri­als and eye­wit­ness evi­dence. A jour­nal­ist Ali­na Dounar, 23, spent 30 days in cus­tody. She was sen­tenced to 15 days of arrest imme­di­ate­ly on spend­ing 15 days of arrest on the first court deci­sion.


    Restrictions on Internet Activity

    The Inter­net was prac­ti­cal­ly blocked in Belarus on August 9–12, 2020. The prob­lems with access to the glob­al Web con­tin­ued till the end of Octo­ber 2020.  

    Mobile phone oper­a­tors in Belarus stop pro­vid­ing Inter­net ser­vices “at the request of autho­rized gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies” for sev­er­al hours dur­ing mass actions every Sun­day.  

    Since the begin­ning of August 2020, most Web-sites that inde­pen­dent­ly report­ed on the socio-polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try have been blocked. The legal pro­ce­dure was bypassed at that. Thus, despite the absence of legal deci­sions, the Web-site of Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists couldn’t be accessed by Web-users in Belarus on August 9–27, 2020.

    On August 21 and 28, 2020, it became known that the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus took a deci­sion to restrict access to more than 70 Web-resources, alleged­ly, ‘con­tain­ing calls and used to coor­di­nate the activ­i­ties on arrang­ing mass dis­obe­di­ence to the offi­cial author­i­ties’, and hav­ing ‘a num­ber of pub­li­ca­tions that neg­a­tive­ly show the sit­u­a­tion in Belarus after the end of the elec­toral cam­paign and dis­cred­it the activ­i­ties of gov­ern­men­tal author­i­ties, includ­ing the law-enforce­ment agen­cies’.

    On Sep­tem­ber 18th, the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus appealed to the Eco­nom­ic Court with a claim to deprive the largest Belaru­sian Web-por­tal TUT.by of its media sta­tus. The claim was ground­ed on the pre­vi­ous four warn­ings, issued by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion to the online media, for the alleged ‘vio­la­tion of Mass Media law’. It should be under­scored that the warn­ings were issued by the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus and that the alleged facts of break­ing the law by the online media edi­to­r­i­al weren’t con­firmed by court. More­over, the dead­line for appeal­ing three warn­ings in court didn’t expire at that moment of time. On Sep­tem­ber 29, 2020, the Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus Ihar Lut­s­ki decid­ed to sus­pend the release of TUT.BY online media with­out any court deci­sions since Octo­ber 1, 2020 till Decem­ber 30, 2020. The deci­sion didn’t entail the restric­tion of access to the Web-por­tal. How­ev­er, it deprived the TUT.BY cor­re­spon­dents of their jour­nal­is­tic sta­tus that made their activ­i­ty more com­pli­cat­ed.

    On Octo­ber 20, 2020, the Court of the Cen­tral City Dis­trict of Min­sk ruled on the recog­ni­tion of the pop­u­lar Telegram-chan­nel NEX­TA-Live and the NEXTA logo as extrem­ist mate­ri­als. Accord­ing to the court deci­sion, cer­tain pub­li­ca­tions, which are pub­lished in the chan­nel, con­tain calls to mass riots.  NEXTA is an inde­pen­dent online news resource that gained pop­u­lar­i­ty after the recent pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. It dis­trib­utes the mate­ri­als and mes­sages, which are relat­ed to the peace­ful protests in Belarus.


    Obstacles to Printing and Distribution of Independent Newspapers

    Since the end of August 2020, the state print­ing hous­es have refused to print non-state news­pa­pers — ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’, ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’, ‘Svo­bod­nye Novosti Plus’, and ‘Bel­Gaze­ta’ — on spu­ri­ous grounds.

    ‘Nar­o­d­naya Volya’ and ‘Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da in Belarus’ redi­rect­ed their orders to print­ing hous­es out­side Belarus. How­ev­er, despite the pres­ence of run­ning con­tracts, the state-owned ‘Bel­posh­ta’ and ‘Bel­sayuz­druk’ enter­pris­es, which are de-fac­to monop­o­list press dis­trib­u­tors by sub­scrip­tion and through a net­work of news stalls, refused to dis­trib­ute the men­tioned pub­li­ca­tions under dif­fer­ent pre­texts.


    Obstacles to Foreign Media Correspondents’ Activity

    At least 100 jour­nal­ists of for­eign media who applied for accred­i­ta­tion to the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs before the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions did not receive a response with­in the time lim­it estab­lished by law, under the pre­text that the For­eign Min­istry’s accred­i­ta­tion com­mis­sion could not hold a meet­ing due to COVID-19. Con­se­quent­ly, the cor­re­spon­dents nev­er received the press cre­den­tials and were unable to work legal­ly in the coun­try.

    At least 50 for­eign jour­nal­ists were banned from enter­ing Belarus in August 2020. Thus, accord­ing to the offi­cial press release of the State Bor­der Com­mit­tee, 17 rep­re­sen­ta­tives of for­eign media were denied entry to the Repub­lic of Belarus at the ‘Nation­al Air­port Min­sk’ check­point on August 18, alleged­ly, ‘due to the lack of accred­i­ta­tion for car­ry­ing out jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ties on the ter­ri­to­ry of our coun­try’. Some of the for­eign cor­re­spon­dents who worked in  Belarus with­out accred­i­ta­tion were detained and sub­se­quent­ly deport­ed with a ban to enter the coun­try for sev­er­al years.

    On August 29, 2020, at least 19 for­eign cor­re­spon­dents were deprived of their accred­i­ta­tion by the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus. (COVID-19 didn’t become an obsta­cle this time.) The jour­nal­ists of ARD TV chan­nel (3 peo­ple), Asso­ci­at­ed Press (2 peo­ple), BBC (2 peo­ple), Radio Free Europe / Radio Lib­er­ty (4 peo­ple), Reuters (2 peo­ple), AFP (2 peo­ple), and Rfi (1 per­son) were deprived of their right to car­ry out pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties in the coun­try. All for­eign nation­als, deprived of press cre­den­tials, were deport­ed from Belarus.

    The Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Belarus can­celed the accred­i­ta­tion of all for­eign jour­nal­ists on Octo­ber 2, 2020. The deci­sion was explained by the devel­op­ment of new Pro­vi­sions on Accred­i­ta­tion.

    Infor­ma­tion on the human rights sit­u­a­tion (includ­ing the sit­u­a­tion with FoE) in the post-elec­tion peri­od is also pre­sent­ed in the “Belarus after the elec­tions” joint report of human rights orga­ni­za­tions.




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