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    May – July 2022. Download PDF

    The per­se­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists con­tin­ued with­in the peri­od under review. It includ­ed bring­ing media work­ers to crim­i­nal and admin­is­tra­tive lia­bil­i­ty, restric­tion of access to the con­tent of inde­pen­dent media, deten­tions, and search­es. Belarus ranked 153rd out of 180 coun­tries in the Press Free­dom Index 2022, pub­lished by Reporters with­out Bor­ders on the World Press Free­dom Day.[1] This is the worst result among the coun­tries in Europe.

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists was award­ed with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Prize for Con­tri­bu­tion to Press Free­dom in Mon­te­v­ideo on May 3, 2022. The award was received by BAJ Chair­per­son Andrei Bas­tunets, who not­ed in his speech as fol­lows:

    The BAJ regards this award as a sign of sup­port for the entire inde­pen­dent jour­nal­is­tic com­mu­ni­ty of Belarus. And we hope that thus we will be able to draw atten­tion to the ongo­ing dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the sit­u­a­tion with media free­dom in the coun­try, that we will have an impact on the change of this sit­u­a­tion for the bet­ter, as well as on the fate of those jour­nal­ists who are kept behind bars in Belarus nowa­days.’[2]

    Apart from the UNESCO prize, on the same day, the BAJ was award­ed the Dif­fer­ence Day Hon­orary Title for Free­dom of Expres­sion, pre­sent­ed by two uni­ver­si­ties in Brus­sels (ULB and VUB), and the Free­dom of the Press 2022 award of the Swedish sec­tion of Reporters With­out Bor­ders (RSF)[3].

    Criminal prosecution of journalists

    As of the end of July 2022, 29 Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists were kept behind bars. 8 of them were serv­ing their sen­tences, hav­ing been con­vict­ed in crim­i­nal cas­es. Oth­ers were kept in cus­tody in con­nec­tion with crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion.

    The Min­sk Region­al Court began a closed ses­sion to con­sid­er the so-called ‘Bela­PAN case on June 6, 2022. The list of defen­dants in the case includes Dzmit­ry Navazhy­lau, Iry­na Leushy­na, Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau, and Iry­na Zlobi­na. How­ev­er, the lit­i­ga­tion was sus­pend­ed for the term of no less than 2 months on June 29, 2022[4].

    Andrei Kuzniechyk, a ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ jour­nal­ist, was sen­tenced to 6 years of impris­on­ment in a strict regime colony under part 1 of Arti­cle 361–1 of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code (cre­at­ing an extrem­ist for­ma­tion or tak­ing part in it) on June 8, 2022. The tri­al was held behind closed doors. There­fore, the spe­cif­ic cir­cum­stances of the case are unknown[5].

    As it became known dur­ing the peri­od of review, Siarhei Sat­suk, the Chief edi­tor of ‘Yezhed­nevnik’ (ej.by) online media out­let, was charged under two more arti­cles of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code – Arti­cle 130 (incit­ing racial, nation­al, reli­gious, or oth­er social enmi­ty or dis­cord) and Arti­cle 426 (abuse of pow­er or offi­cial author­i­ty) – in addi­tion to the ini­tial charge of accept­ing a bribe. The com­mit­ted actions, which are asso­ci­at­ed with the new charges, remain unknown[6].

    On June 15, 2022, Aksana Kolb, the ‘Novy Chas’ newspaper’s Edi­tor-in-chief, was sen­tenced to 2.5 years of restric­tion of free­dom with a refer­ral to an open cor­rec­tion­al insti­tu­tion, being found guilty under part 1 of Arti­cle 342 of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them). She fled Belarus lat­er[7].

    The Homiel Region­al Court began a tri­al of Iry­na Slau­nika­va, a Deputy Chair­per­son of BAJ and a jour­nal­ist of the Pol­ish Tele­vi­sion (TVP) on June 23, 2022. The tri­al with a break last­ed until August 3, 2022. Con­se­quent­ly, the media work­er was sen­tenced to five years of impris­on­ment under Arti­cle 342 (arrange­ment of group actions that gross­ly vio­late pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them) and Arti­cle 361 (cre­ation of an extrem­ist for­ma­tion or lead­er­ship of such a for­ma­tion or a unit in its struc­ture) of the Crim­i­nal Code[8].

    A crim­i­nal case against a for­mer jour­nal­ist of Belaru­sian State TV Kseniya Lut­ski­na was sent to court on July 7, 2022. The media work­er has been in cus­tody since Decem­ber 2020.

    She is accused of con­spir­a­cy to seize state pow­er in the uncon­sti­tu­tion­al way (Arti­cle 357 of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code), as, alleged­ly, she ‘led a group of infor­ma­tion sup­port and coun­ter­ac­tion to state media’ in the Coor­di­nat­ing Coun­cil of the Belaru­sian oppo­si­tion. Also, she tried to cre­ate a pub­lic Belaru­sian inter­ac­tive tele­vi­sion, alleged­ly, in order ‘to con­ceal and dis­tort real facts, esca­late protest activ­i­ty, and stim­u­late a split in the Belaru­sian soci­ety, form­ing a neg­a­tive pub­lic opin­ion about the activ­i­ties of state bod­ies.” Lut­ski­na faces a sen­tence of eight to twelve years in prison[9].

    The sec­ond court ver­dict was hand­ed down to a jour­nal­ist Kat­siary­na Andreye­va dur­ing a closed ses­sion of Homiel Region­al Court on July 13, 2022.

    She was found guilty of ‘trea­son against the state’ (part 1 of Arti­cle 356 of the Crim­i­nal Code) and sen­tenced to eight years in prison. In Feb­ru­ary 2021, she had already been sen­tenced to two years in prison. The new charges were brought against her five months before the end of her ini­tial prison term[10].

    A number of new criminal cases were filed against journalists in May – July 2022

    Yury Hantsare­vich, a cor­re­spon­dent of ‘Intex-press’ peri­od­i­cal (Baranavichy, Brest region), was detained on May 5, 2022. A crim­i­nal case was filed against him under Arti­cle 361–4 of the Crim­i­nal Code (assis­tance to extrem­ist activ­i­ty) after­wards. It relat­ed to the trans­fer of pho­tos of Russ­ian mil­i­tary equip­ment to the ‘Zerka­lo’ and ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ pub­li­ca­tions. On July 14, 2022, he was sen­tenced to 2 years and 6 months of impris­on­ment[11].

    Kanstantsin Zalatykh, Direc­tor of ‘Belarusy i Rynak’ news­pa­per, was detained by KGB offi­cers on the morn­ing of May 18, 2022. He was charged under part 2 of Arti­cle 130 of the Crim­i­nal Code of Belarus (incit­ing hatred or dis­cord, com­bined with vio­lence or com­mit­ted by an offi­cial), which pro­vides for pun­ish­ment from 3 to 10 years of impris­on­ment. Kanstantsin Zalatykh is cur­rent­ly kept in cus­tody[12].

    A crim­i­nal police search was car­ried out at the house of jour­nal­ist Ales Lyu­bianchuk in the vil­lage of Kryvichi, Iuye dis­trict, Hrod­na region on May 26, 2022. Con­se­quent­ly, he was detained as part of a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion and tak­en to a tem­po­rary deten­tion cen­ter in Min­sk. It is known that charges have been brought against the jour­nal­ist, but the crim­i­nal arti­cle that Lyu­bianchuk is charged with is not known for cer­tain, since the lawyer is under a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Lyu­bianchuk col­lab­o­rat­ed with the ‘Bel­sat’ TV chan­nel[13].

    On June 17, 2022, crim­i­nal cas­es were filed against Yury Glad­chuk, the ABW.by Edi­tor-in-chief and Yulia Mudrevskaya, the ABW.by spe­cial projects edi­tor under Arti­cle 342 of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment and prepa­ra­tion of actions gross­ly vio­lat­ing pub­lic order or active par­tic­i­pa­tion in them). Both of them are kept in cus­tody[14].

    Vitali Andras, Direc­tor of ‘Dev By Media’, and his wife Ale­na Andras, who worked as an accoun­tant of ‘Dev By Media’ enter­prise, were detained on June 23, 2022. Pro-gov­ern­men­tal Telegram chan­nels report­ed that a crim­i­nal case had been filed against Vitali Andras, alleged­ly, for ‘incit­ing peo­ple to a coup d’é­tat’ and repost­ing mes­sages from the NEXTA Telegram Chan­nel. The spous­es were released after the search and spend­ing some time in deten­tion[15].

    The Main Direc­torate for Com­bat­ing Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion of the Min­istry of Inte­ri­or of the Repub­lic of Belarus (GUBOPiK) filed a new crim­i­nal case against Stsi­a­pan Put­si­la and a group of oth­er peo­ple under Arti­cle 290–5 of the Crim­i­nal Code (arrange­ment of activ­i­ties of a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion and tak­ing part in the activ­i­ties of such an orga­ni­za­tion), in addi­tion to ten exist­ing crim­i­nal charges. The lat­est charges were relat­ed to the arrange­ment and man­age­ment of the ‘Nex­ta’ Telegram chan­nel activ­i­ties. (The lat­ter has been rec­og­nized as a ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tion by the Supreme Court of Belarus.) The sanc­tion of this arti­cle pro­vides for a pun­ish­ment of up to 15 years in prison[16].

    Obstruction of journalistic and media activities

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists reg­is­tered 15 cas­es of deten­tion of media work­ers and 15 search­es with­in the peri­od of May – July 2022. Five jour­nal­ists were sub­ject­ed to admin­is­tra­tive arrest for the terms of 10 to 15 days. Thus, a free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er Siarhei Lysenka was detained and brought to admin­is­tra­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty in Homiel on June 27, 2022. He was present in the park, where a fes­tive event for Ukrain­ian chil­dren was held[17].

    Pub­lic access to the Web­site of ‘ARCHE’ Belaru­sian inde­pen­dent mag­a­zine was dis­abled from Belarus in July 2022[18].

    The Vil­lage Belarus Web­site was includ­ed into the reg­is­ter of banned online resources in the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion and blocked for pub­lic access from Rus­sia on May 15, 2022. Its edi­to­r­i­al office had received a let­ter from Roskom­nad­zor with a demand to delete a text “What is wrong with the offi­cial Russ­ian ver­sion of the shelling of the rail­way sta­tion in Kram­a­torsk, where 50 peo­ple were killed,” but refused to do so[19].

    Also, a court order was issued in Rus­sia to ban the dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion about the loss­es of the Russ­ian army dur­ing the war in Ukraine, pub­lished on the Web­site of ‘Belarusy i Rynak’ news­pa­per. Sur­pris­ing­ly, the dis­put­ed pub­li­ca­tion had been delet­ed from the Web-resource before the court ver­dict was announced[20].

    Application of anti-extremist legislation

    The con­tent of some inde­pen­dent mass media was rec­og­nized as ‘extrem­ist mate­ri­als’ with­in the peri­od under review. Par­tic­u­lar­ly, it con­cerned their pages on social media and includ­ed the media with the pre­vi­ous­ly blocked web­sites.  The pol­i­cy affect­ed the web­sites and pages on social media of ‘Medi­a­zone. Belarus’, ‘‎Media-Palessie’, ‘Most’, the Telegram-chan­nels of ‘‎Brest­skaya gaze­ta’, ‘‎Hrodna.Life’ as well as the ‘ByProsvet’ samiz­dat chan­nel. The HARBACEVIČ Telegram chan­nel, estab­lished by a ‘Nasha Niva’ jour­nal­ist Art­siom Har­bat­se­vich, and the ‘Zhizn-Mali­na’ pop­u­lar YouTube chan­nel, which pub­lish­es inter­views with the civ­il soci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives, were also rec­og­nized as extrem­ist with­in the peri­od of May – July 2022.

    The Min­istry of Inte­ri­or of Belarus took a deci­sion to include two inde­pen­dent media — KYKY.ORG and ‘Euro­ra­dio’ – in the List of orga­ni­za­tions, group­ings, indi­vid­ual entre­pre­neurs and cit­i­zens involved in extrem­ist activ­i­ties, in the form of ‘extrem­ist for­ma­tions’.

    The ‘Chest­naya Gaze­ta’ (‘Hon­est News­pa­per’) infor­mal print pub­li­ca­tion as well as the relat­ed pages on social media and the Telegram bot were includ­ed into the list, too. The print copies of ‘Chest­naya Gaze­ta’ were seized from the inde­pen­dent press dis­trib­u­tor Aleh Hau­ry­lau from Sal­i­horsk (Min­sk region) at the end of 2021. Fol­low­ing the exam­i­na­tion of the news­pa­per texts, he was charged under four arti­cles of the Belarus Crim­i­nal Code: Arti­cle 361 (calls for actions aimed at caus­ing harm to the nation­al secu­ri­ty of the Repub­lic of Belarus), Arti­cle 341 (des­e­cra­tion of build­ings and dam­age to prop­er­ty), Arti­cle 130 (incite­ment of hatred or dis­cord), and Arti­cle 367 (slan­der against the Pres­i­dent of Belarus).

    Ihar Losik, a blog­ger and ‘Radio Lib­er­ty’ employ­ee has been includ­ed by the KGB in the List of orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als involved in ter­ror­ist activ­i­ties. He was sen­tenced to 15 years in a high secu­ri­ty penal colony ear­li­er.

    On June 14, 2022, the Supreme Court of Belarus rec­og­nized the ‘TUT BY MEDIA’ Ltd. as an ‘extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tion.’ Ihar Lut­s­ki, ex-Min­is­ter of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus not­ed in this regard as fol­lows:

    ‘There was a direct encroach­ment on the sov­er­eign­ty and inde­pen­dence of our coun­try. The fund­ing of these non-state media was car­ried out from abroad. And it was coor­di­nat­ed from abroad, too. The cur­rent deci­sion on TUT.BY is a vivid exam­ple of this activ­i­ty. It has been labeled as extrem­ist!’[21]

    Developments in the state media sector

    The ‘Globe­cast’ com­pa­ny took a deci­sion to dis­con­nect ‘Belarus-24’ TV chan­nel from satel­lite broad­cast­ing to a num­ber of coun­tries in the Euro­pean and Pacif­ic region in June 2022. This deci­sion caused out­rage from the Min­istry of Infor­ma­tion of Belarus[22].

    The same reac­tion was caused by Telegram’s deci­sion to com­plete­ly remove the odi­ous pro-gov­ern­men­tal chan­nels ‘Zhel­tye Slivy’ (‘Yel­low Plums’ / ‘Yel­low Leaks’) and ‘Vashi Slivy’ (‘Your Plums’ / ‘Your Leaks’), which pub­lished ‘repen­tant’ videos with detainees and insults against oppo­nents of the author­i­ties in Belarus[23].

    The Union of Euro­pean Foot­ball Asso­ci­a­tions (UEFA) has exclud­ed the Belaru­sian State TV and Radio Com­pa­ny from the list of offi­cial broad­cast­ers of the League of Nations. Con­se­quent­ly, the match­es of the nation­al foot­ball team can no longer be watched on TV in Belarus. (They used to be broad­cast by the ‘Belarus 5’ TV chan­nel in the past.)[24]

    Download PDF version of the report

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