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  • Human Rights Watch. Belarus: Crackdown on Independent Journalism

    Belarusian authorities have escalated repression against independent journalists in the past five months, Human Rights Watch said today. The authorities have arbitrarily detained and beaten journalists, imposed fines and prison sentences on politically motivated charges, revoked their media credentials, and raided their homes and offices.

    Журналистка независимого новостного портала TUT.BY Катерина Борисевич входит в зал суда в Минске 19 февраля 2021 года.

    The crack­down on jour­nal­ists is part of the government’s efforts to silence media report­ing on human rights vio­la­tions and peace­ful, coun­try­wide protests. Pro­test­ers have been demand­ing fair elec­tions and jus­tice for abus­es since August 9, 2020, when the offi­cial results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion were announced.

    “Instead of ensur­ing jus­tice for sweep­ing police bru­tal­i­ty and oth­er abus­es, Belaru­sian author­i­ties are pros­e­cut­ing jour­nal­ists report­ing on sen­si­tive issues,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Cen­tral Asia direc­tor at Human Rights Watch. “The author­i­ties should guar­an­tee that all jour­nal­ists in Belarus are able to car­ry out their work with­out fear of reprisals and with­out abu­sive restric­tions.”

    Human Rights Watch inter­viewed 19 inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists report­ing on Belarus, their lawyers, and rel­a­tives.

    Reporters with­out Bor­ders, an inde­pen­dent media rights group, has called Belarus Europe’s most dan­ger­ous coun­try for jour­nal­ists due to the gov­ern­ment repres­sion against inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists peace­ful­ly doing their legit­i­mate work.

    Sev­er­al jour­nal­ists told Human Rights Watch that “press” vests felt like a tar­get on their backs rather than a sym­bol of pro­tec­tion.

    Between late Sep­tem­ber and March, Belaru­sian author­i­ties opened at least 18 crim­i­nal cas­es against jour­nal­ists, appar­ent­ly in reprisal for their work. Three jour­nal­ists – Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich, Kat­siary­na Andreye­va (Bakhvala­va), and Darya Chultso­va – were sen­tenced to prison terms rang­ing from six months to two years. Sev­en jour­nal­ists – Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau, Yulia Slut­skaya, Siarhei Alsheus­ki, Ala Sharko, Piotr Slut­sky, Kseniya Lut­ski­na, and Dzia­n­is Ivashyn – are await­ing tri­al behind bars on crim­i­nal charges of vio­lat­ing pub­lic order, tax eva­sion, and inter­fer­ing with police work. One jour­nal­ist is under house arrest, accused of insult­ing the pres­i­dent.

    The author­i­ties coerced lawyers rep­re­sent­ing many of these jour­nal­ists into sign­ing vague­ly word­ed non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments, bar­ring them from shar­ing any infor­ma­tion about their clients’ cas­es. Sev­er­al lawyers who in sim­i­lar cas­es refused to sign have faced dis­bar­ment.

    Belaru­sian author­i­ties should imme­di­ate­ly and uncon­di­tion­al­ly free Andreye­va, Chultso­va, and Bary­se­vich, and quash the ver­dicts against them, and free Slut­skaya, Slut­sky, Sharko, Alsheus­ki, Lut­ski­na, Ali­ak­san­drou and Ivashyn and drop all charges against them.

    In some crim­i­nal cas­es involv­ing bogus charges, the author­i­ties have des­ig­nat­ed jour­nal­ists as wit­ness­es and then pro­ceed­ed to sub­ject them to police and judi­cial harass­ment. The jour­nal­ists report­ed being sum­moned for police ques­tion­ing, threat­ened with crim­i­nal charges, and sub­ject­ed to home and office search­es and seizure of their equip­ment. At least one news­pa­per had to tem­porar­i­ly close due to a threat of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion, raids, and con­fis­cat­ed equip­ment.

    On Feb­ru­ary 16, law enforce­ment offi­cials car­ried out a nation­wide wave of raids, tar­get­ing human rights groups and at least five jour­nal­ists and seiz­ing their devices. Offi­cials said the raids were part of a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into unsanc­tioned protests and appear to equate pro­vid­ing legal assis­tance to detained pro­test­ers with orga­niz­ing protests.

    The raids also tar­get­ed the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ), a human rights orga­ni­za­tion pro­vid­ing assis­tance to jour­nal­ists in Belarus. In March, the author­i­ties ques­tioned the group’s leader, Andrey Bas­tunets, and its deputy direc­tor, Barys Haret­s­ki, as wit­ness­es in a case. Bas­tunets had pre­vi­ous­ly been ques­tioned as a wit­ness in Decem­ber in rela­tion to anoth­er inves­ti­ga­tion into alleged calls for action aimed at dam­ag­ing the nation­al secu­ri­ty of Belarus. There are seri­ous and cred­i­ble con­cerns that the Feb­ru­ary raids fore­shad­ow poten­tial new bogus crim­i­nal charges against jour­nal­ists.

    Belaru­sian author­i­ties wrong­ly equate report­ing on unau­tho­rized demon­stra­tions with par­tic­i­pa­tion in them, par­tic­u­lar­ly if the reporter works for an out­let that the author­i­ties refuse to grant accred­i­ta­tion, Human Rights Watch said. In Decem­ber, Infor­ma­tion Min­is­ter Igor Lut­skiy went so far as to claim that Belarus is fight­ing an infor­ma­tion war aimed at destroy­ing the state, smear­ing inde­pen­dent media work­ing in the coun­try.

    The Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists said that between August 2020 and March 2021, the author­i­ties detained about 400 jour­nal­ists on admin­is­tra­tive charges. At least 100 were giv­en short admin­is­tra­tive jail terms between Decem­ber and March, while oth­ers were fined on admin­is­tra­tive charges of “vio­lat­ing the rules on mass gath­er­ings,” “dis­obey­ing the police,” and “vio­lat­ing the laws on mass media.”

    At least four jour­nal­ists told Human Rights Watch that they were ill-treat­ed dur­ing and after deten­tion. They were bru­tal­ly beat­en, denied med­ical assis­tance, and held in poor deten­tion con­di­tions. Some said their equip­ment was destroyed.

    In recent months, Belaru­sian author­i­ties deport­ed at least two jour­nal­ists with Russ­ian cit­i­zen­ship, appar­ent­ly in retal­i­a­tion for their work in Belarus.

    The author­i­ties threat­ened to deprive at least three jour­nal­ists of cus­tody of their chil­dren. All three fled Belarus with their fam­i­lies.

    The author­i­ties also warned media out­lets about alleged mis­takes in their report­ing and crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment. At least one media out­let was unjust­ly stripped of its media cre­den­tials for vio­lat­ing the media law.

    Belaru­sian state-owned print­ing hous­es refused to print at least five inde­pen­dent news­pa­pers. At least one news­pa­per that switched to print­ing on its own said that on one occa­sion, law enforce­ment con­fis­cat­ed an entire print run with­out any legal doc­u­ments sanc­tion­ing such action.

    On Octo­ber 2, the For­eign Affairs Min­istry adopt­ed new rules on for­eign media accred­i­ta­tion in Belarus, can­cel­ing all exist­ing accred­i­ta­tions and mak­ing the accred­i­ta­tion process sig­nif­i­cant­ly more com­pli­cat­ed.

    On March 24, the Unit­ed Nations Human Rights Coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the “arbi­trary arrests and deten­tion of oppo­si­tion mem­bers, jour­nal­ists and media work­ers,” and the “prison sen­tences hand­ed down to media work­ers for per­form­ing their pro­fes­sion­al duties” and call­ing for the imme­di­ate release of “all polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, jour­nal­ists and oth­er media work­ers.” Belarus’ inter­na­tion­al part­ners should con­tin­ue to press the gov­ern­ment to end threats, attacks, and reprisals against jour­nal­ists and should call for those respon­si­ble for grave vio­la­tions, includ­ing tor­ture and ill-treat­ment, to be held account­able, Human Rights Watch said. They should also con­tin­ue to pro­tect jour­nal­ists, includ­ing by pro­vid­ing greater assis­tance to jour­nal­ists under threat.

    The Belaru­sian author­i­ties should respect free­dom of expres­sion and assem­bly, Human Rights Watch said. Belarus has an oblig­a­tion under inter­na­tion­al law not to undu­ly pre­vent jour­nal­ists from doing their job, includ­ing report­ing on unsanc­tioned protests.

    “Belaru­sian author­i­ties should stop pre­tend­ing that free­dom of expres­sion is a threat to nation­al secu­ri­ty,” Williamson said. “They should drop bogus crim­i­nal charges and imme­di­ate­ly free those behind bars. They should stop pros­e­cut­ing, harass­ing, and oth­er­wise pres­sur­ing jour­nal­ists who are car­ry­ing out their work.”

    For detailed accounts, please see below.

    Crim­i­nal Charges

    Breach­ing Med­ical Con­fi­den­tial­i­ty (Arti­cle 178)

    On Novem­ber 19, the Pros­e­cu­tor General’s office opened a crim­i­nal case against a TUT.BY jour­nal­ist, Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich, and Art­siom Sorokin, a doc­tor, who spoke up about Raman Ban­daren­ka, a protest activist beat­en to death in Novem­ber in Min­sk, alleged­ly by plain­clothes police offi­cers. After his killing sparked nation­wide protests, Belarus’ chief inves­tiga­tive agency claimed the police had found Ban­daren­ka drunk and already beat­en. Med­ical doc­u­ments leaked to TUT.BY, a major inde­pen­dent news out­let, proved he had not been intox­i­cat­ed, and videos shot the day of Bandarenka’s killing showed men chas­ing and beat­ing Ban­daren­ka and bundling him into a van.

    On Novem­ber 29, Bary­se­vich and Sorokin were indict­ed for “breach­ing med­ical con­fi­den­tial­i­ty that led to grave con­se­quences.”

    Bandarenka’s sis­ter said that dur­ing the tri­al, which was closed, rel­a­tives tes­ti­fied that they had giv­en Bary­se­vich per­mis­sion to pub­lish the med­ical data. But on March 2, the Moscow Dis­trict Court sen­tenced Bary­se­vich to six months in prison and a fine and hand­ed Sorokin a two-year sus­pend­ed sen­tence and a fine.

    Orga­niz­ing Activ­i­ties Vio­lat­ing Pub­lic Order (Arti­cle 342)

    On Novem­ber 15, Kat­siary­na Andreye­va (Bakhvala­va), a jour­nal­ist with the Poland-based broad­cast­er Bel­sat, and her col­league and cam­er­a­woman, Darya Chultso­va, livestreamed a protest in Min­sk demand­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion into Bandarenka’s death. They ran the livestream from an apart­ment with the own­ers’ per­mis­sion. Two days lat­er, a court sen­tenced them to sev­en days in deten­tion on admin­is­tra­tive charges of “par­tic­i­pat­ing in an unsanc­tioned mass gath­er­ing” because they livestreamed the gath­er­ing. On Novem­ber 20, the author­i­ties opened a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion against them on charges of coor­di­nat­ing “activ­i­ties vio­lat­ing pub­lic order,” and the women remain in cus­tody.

    On Feb­ru­ary 19, a court sen­tenced Andreye­va and Chultso­va to two years in prison.

    On Jan­u­ary 12, police searched the house of Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau, a jour­nal­ist and media man­ag­er, con­fis­cat­ed equip­ment and mon­ey, and arrest­ed him and his part­ner, Iri­na Zlobi­na, on crim­i­nal charges of “orga­niz­ing activ­i­ties vio­lat­ing pub­lic order.” On Jan­u­ary 14, inves­ti­ga­tors also searched the office of Bela­PAN, the out­let where Ali­ak­san­drau worked as a con­sul­tant, seiz­ing equip­ment.

    On Jan­u­ary 15,  First Deputy Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Gen­nady Kaza­ke­vich claimed that Ali­ak­san­drau and Zlobi­na had been financ­ing pro­test­ers by pay­ing their fines with mon­ey from BYHELP, a fund estab­lished to assist vic­tims of repres­sion in Belarus.

    On Jan­u­ary 21, the inves­tiga­tive com­mit­tee indict­ed Ali­ak­san­drau and Zlobi­na. The cou­ple remains in cus­tody pend­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion. If con­vict­ed, they face a max­i­mum three-year prison sen­tence.

    Tax Eva­sion (Arti­cle 243)

    On Decem­ber 22, police detained five employ­ees of the Belarus Press Club, an inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion work­ing to pro­tect press free­doms, in rela­tion to a crim­i­nal tax eva­sion inves­ti­ga­tion. The author­i­ties searched and seized com­put­ers and phones from the group’s office and homes of its founder, Yulia Slut­skaya; its finan­cial direc­tor, Siarhei Alsheus­ki; and two pro­gram direc­tors, Sergei Yakupov and Ala Sharko.

    On Decem­ber 31, Slut­skaya, Alsheus­ki, Sharko, and cam­era­man Piotr Slut­sky were charged with “grand tax eva­sion,” and they remain in pre­tri­al cus­tody. Yakupov, a Russ­ian cit­i­zen, was deport­ed to Rus­sia that day and for­bid­den entry to Belarus for 10 years.

    Also on Decem­ber 31, mass media report­ed that the author­i­ties indict­ed Kseniya Lut­ski­na, a jour­nal­ist, on charges of aid­ing tax eva­sion. A week ear­li­er, police had searched her home, seized her elec­tron­ic devices, and detained her. She remains in cus­tody.

    Lut­ski­na worked at Belarus One, the state tele­vi­sion chan­nel, but quit in August and joined the Coor­di­na­tion Coun­cil, the polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion body. Lut­ski­na helped the Press Club cre­ate an online alter­na­tive to state tele­vi­sion. The project was sched­uled to begin oper­at­ing in Jan­u­ary, but it did not.

    Insult­ing the Pres­i­dent of Belarus (Arti­cle 368)
    On Decem­ber 22, law enforce­ment offi­cers detained Siarhei Hardziye­vich, a jour­nal­ist with 1reg.by, an inde­pen­dent out­let that cov­ers news in the Brest region. They searched his home and con­fis­cat­ed all devices for alleged­ly insult­ing the pres­i­dent in a mes­sage to a pub­lic Viber group with 5,000 mem­bers. On Decem­ber 25, the police placed him under house arrest. On Decem­ber 31, he was indict­ed. If con­vict­ed, Hardziye­vich faces a max­i­mum two-year prison sen­tence.

    The author­i­ties sum­moned the edi­tor of 1reg.by, Pavel Daylid, on Decem­ber 24 for ques­tion­ing about the case, which 1reg.by had cov­ered. After Daylid left the police sta­tion, he real­ized that the Viber group he admin­is­tered, where Hardziye­vich had alleged­ly post­ed the insult, had been delet­ed from his smart­phone, which had been in a lock­er at the police sta­tion dur­ing the inter­ro­ga­tion. In March, the inves­tiga­tive com­mit­tee refused to inves­ti­gate the inci­dent. On Decem­ber 29 police searched the home and seized the lap­top of Piotr Huza­yeus­ki, chief edi­tor of 1reg.by and “Hantsav­it­sky chas” news­pa­per, as well as the office these two media out­lets share. In Jan­u­ary, police searched the homes of two more 1reg.by jour­nal­ists in con­nec­tion with the case.

    Libel (Arti­cle 188)
    On Sep­tem­ber 23, law enforce­ment offi­cers searched the apart­ment of Yahor Martsi­novich, chief edi­tor of the long­stand­ing week­ly news­pa­per Nasha Niva, seiz­ing his lap­top, phone, and mem­o­ry sticks. Martsi­novich told Human Rights Watch that the police ques­tioned him and trans­ferred to Okresti­na deten­tion cen­ter and released him on Sep­tem­ber 26. The police noti­fied him he was a sus­pect in con­nec­tion with a crim­i­nal libel case.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion springs from an inter­view in Nasha Niva with Vlad Sokolovsky, one of two DJs pros­e­cut­ed for play­ing the song “We Want a Change!” at a pub­lic event before the August 9 elec­tion. In the inter­view, Sokolovsky alleged that the first deputy inte­ri­or min­is­ter, Alek­sander Bar­sukov, had punched him twice when he was in deten­tion. In ear­ly Sep­tem­ber, inves­ti­ga­tors sum­moned Martsi­novich for ques­tion­ing, demand­ing that he reveal the author of the arti­cle. He has refused.

    Grave Hooli­gan­ism (Arti­cle 339)
    On 20 Jan­u­ary, Yury Dzi­ashuk, a free­lance jour­nal­ist, was detained for 72 hours in Lida and charged with “dis­turb­ing pub­lic order” for alleged­ly shout­ing in a court­room. Two days ear­li­er, Dzi­ashuk was film­ing at the tri­al of an activist, Vitold Ashurko, when spec­ta­tors start­ed shout­ing “Shame!” in response to Ashurko’s sen­tence. A video clip from the court­room cap­tured Dzi­ashuk film­ing the room, and when his face is vis­i­ble he is not shout­ing. Sev­er­al observers were detained for shout­ing, but Human Rights Watch does not have infor­ma­tion as to whether they face crim­i­nal charges.

    Inter­fer­ence with the Work of a Law Enforce­ment Offi­cer (Arti­cle 365)
    On March 12, law enforce­ment offi­cers detained Dzia­n­is Ivashyn, an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist work­ing with Navy Chas news­pa­per, and searched his apart­ment, seiz­ing all his devices. The police also searched the homes of his moth­er and grand­moth­er. Ivashyn’s wife told Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists that the search war­rant was issued on alle­ga­tions of spread­ing an officer’s per­son­al data. Although no one could con­firm the basis for the charge, it is pos­si­bly con­nect­ed to Ivashyn’s last pub­lished arti­cle about for­mer Ukrain­ian “Berkut” (riot police) offi­cers work­ing in Belaru­sian law enforce­ment. On March 19, Ivashyn was indict­ed and will be held for at least two months in pre­tri­al deten­tion.

    Beat­ings and Ill-Treat­ment in Deten­tion

    On Octo­ber 9, law enforce­ment offi­cers detained a REFORM.by jour­nal­ist, Evgeniya Dol­gaya, next to her house, in front of her eight-year-old daugh­ter. She said that the police ques­tioned Dol­gaya about her work as a jour­nal­ist, threat­ened her with crim­i­nal charges, and issued her a cita­tion for alleged­ly par­tic­i­pat­ing in two unsanc­tioned mass protests, one of which she was report­ing on. Dol­gaya said she spent at least two days in a cold cell, await­ing tri­al. She was not giv­en a mat­tress, pil­low, or a blan­ket until the fol­low­ing evening:

    The nurse checked my blood pres­sure in the neigh­bor­ing emp­ty cell that was packed with mat­tress­es, pil­lows, and blan­kets. And I was told, “You are not allowed [to have them].”

    While she was in deten­tion, an uniden­ti­fied offi­cial ques­tion­ing Dol­gaya accused her of being a bad moth­er and threat­ened that her daugh­ter would be sent to an orphan­age. On Octo­ber 12, after she was fined, a court released her and Dol­gaya fled Belarus fear­ing crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion in retal­i­a­tion for her work.

    On Novem­ber 1, a Novy Chas pho­tog­ra­ph­er, Dmit­ry Dmitriyev, was report­ing on a peace­ful Sun­day protest in Min­sk when offi­cers in civil­ian clothes, mil­i­tary vests, and hel­mets bru­tal­ly detained him, push­ing him to the ground. They took Dmitriyev to a police vehi­cle, where riot police offi­cers beat and kicked him. He said he was lat­er diag­nosed with a per­fo­rat­ed eardrum and a severe ear infec­tion that result­ed from it:

    The entire time I had my “press” badge dan­gling around my neck, and I kept show­ing it to them, but they react­ed with a fair amount of pro­fan­i­ty. They said they did not care, to put it mild­ly.

    When police took Dmitriyev to the sta­tion, he reit­er­at­ed that he was a jour­nal­ist and asked to noti­fy the Cen­tral Inter­nal Affairs Department’s press ser­vice about his deten­tion. The police claimed the department’s response was that they should pros­e­cute him.

    Lat­er that day, the inves­ti­ga­tor noti­fied Dmitriyev that he was a sus­pect in a crim­i­nal case on vio­lat­ing pub­lic order charges in rela­tion to the protest he was report­ing on. On Novem­ber 2, he was sen­tenced to 10 days in deten­tion for vio­lat­ing admin­is­tra­tive rules on mass gath­er­ings and dis­obey­ing the police. A few days after his release, police searched his apart­ment in rela­tion to the crim­i­nal case. On March 4, the inves­ti­ga­tor ques­tioned him again. The inves­ti­ga­tion is pend­ing.

    On Novem­ber 1, a Bel­sat cam­era­man, Dmit­ry Soltan, was report­ing on the same protest, wear­ing a press vest, when the police knocked him down, kick­ing and beat­ing him with trun­cheons while the cam­era con­tin­ued record­ing. The offi­cers destroyed the cam­era and con­fis­cat­ed the mem­o­ry card. Soltan was lat­er diag­nosed with a dis­lo­cat­ed clav­i­cle, torn lig­a­ments in the left shoul­der, and bruis­es on the head.

    On Novem­ber 2, a court in Min­sk sen­tenced Soltan to 13 days in deten­tion for vio­lat­ing rules on mass gath­er­ings and dis­obey­ing the police for report­ing on the Novem­ber 1 protest. He was also noti­fied that he was a sus­pect in a crim­i­nal case on charges of orga­niz­ing activ­i­ties vio­lat­ing pub­lic order.

    On Feb­ru­ary 8, the police again detained Soltan, togeth­er with a Bel­sat jour­nal­ist, Liubov Lunio­va, when they were inter­view­ing passers-by in Min­sk. Both were charged with hooli­gan­ism and sen­tenced to 15 and 10 days in deten­tion, respec­tive­ly, for alleged­ly insult­ing offi­cers at the sta­tion.

    While serv­ing his sen­tence at Okresti­na, Soltan was tak­en for a “pre­ven­tive con­ver­sa­tion” with a prison offi­cial. Dur­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, a guard beat Dmit­ry with a trun­cheon on his low­er back and stom­ach. The offi­cial blamed Soltan for alleged­ly pro­vok­ing the guard.

    Lunio­va, a jour­nal­ist with 25 years of expe­ri­ence, was pre­vi­ous­ly arrest­ed by riot police on Decem­ber 7 while report­ing on a protest in Min­sk. She felt unwell after she was tak­en to Okresti­na. But the staff only called an ambu­lance after Luniova’s cell­mates pressed the emer­gency but­ton more than five times:

    Women were say­ing, “We have a jour­nal­ist, she feels unwell. Call the ambu­lance.” And the guard replied, “Yeah, but she was not feel­ing bad when going to the [protest on the] square? So just let her croak.”

    When she final­ly was tak­en to a hos­pi­tal, Lunio­va was diag­nosed with a hyper­ten­sive cri­sis. On Decem­ber 28, after two weeks of treat­ment, a court sen­tenced her to a fine for “vio­lat­ing the rules on pub­lic gath­er­ings.”

    Judi­cial and Police Harass­ment

    On Novem­ber 9, a Slonim inves­ti­ga­tor noti­fied Anna Volo­dashchuk, pub­lish­er of Slonim­skaya news­pa­per, that she was a wit­ness in a crim­i­nal case on insult­ing a pub­lic offi­cial on a Telegram chan­nel. Inves­ti­ga­tors searched her apart­ment, seiz­ing lap­tops and mem­o­ry sticks, she said. Law enforce­ment offi­cials also raid­ed the newspaper’s office that day, and seized all the equip­ment.. Volo­dashchuk said she did not know what the alleged insult was. She tem­porar­i­ly fled Belarus, fear­ing pros­e­cu­tion.

    In Novem­ber, the news­pa­per announced it was clos­ing tem­porar­i­ly after 24 years of work due to pres­sure from the author­i­ties. The newspaper’s staff con­tin­ues to pub­lish online, Volo­dashchuk said:

    [After the death of] the chief edi­tor, pub­lish­er, and my hus­band Vik­tor Volo­dashchuk, my son and I have been lead­ing this busi­ness togeth­er – our news­pa­per, our brain­child… which was tak­en from us in one day. Read­ers keep call­ing us, say­ing they real­ly miss the news­pa­per.

    On Novem­ber 24, Belaru­sian migra­tion police deport­ed a Russ­ian cit­i­zen, Roman Pop­kov, a MBKh Media jour­nal­ist, “in the inter­ests of pub­lic secu­ri­ty.” On Novem­ber 7, law enforce­ment had detained Pop­kov while he was report­ing on a women’s protest in Min­sk. He was lat­er sen­tenced to 15 days of deten­tion for alleged par­tic­i­pa­tion in an unsanc­tioned mass gath­er­ing that he had filmed as a jour­nal­ist on Octo­ber 11. His wife, Ele­na Borovskaya, also a jour­nal­ist, left Belarus, fear­ing pros­e­cu­tion.

    In Octo­ber, the Depart­ment of Finan­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions opened a tax eva­sion inves­ti­ga­tion against the own­er of the Orsha.eu web­site, Ihar Kazmer­chak, in rela­tion to a shop he owns. They searched Kazmerchak’s shop and apart­ment. On Decem­ber 30, they closed the case. But on Jan­u­ary 29, the depart­ment sum­moned for ques­tion­ing three peo­ple who were work­ing for Orsha.eu in rela­tion to a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion. Accord­ing to Orsha.eu, they were forced to sign non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments.

    Strip­ping Accred­i­ta­tion or Reg­is­tra­tion

    From August to Sep­tem­ber, the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry issued four warn­ings to TUT.BY for “spread­ing false infor­ma­tion” over its report­ing on such issues as elec­tion fraud and a police raid at the apart­ment of TUT.BY’s edi­tor. Under the Belarus’s Law on Mass Media, after two warn­ings in one year, a court can strip a media out­let of its accred­i­ta­tion. On Octo­ber 1, the Infor­ma­tion Min­istry sus­pend­ed TUT.BY’s accred­i­ta­tion. Court hear­ings start­ed in Novem­ber and were sus­pend­ed pend­ing TUT.BY’s appeals about the warn­ings. After TUT.BY lost these appeals, hear­ings resumed. On Decem­ber 3, a court stripped TUT.BY of its media cre­den­tials.

    On Jan­u­ary 19, Infor­ma­tion Min­is­ter Igor Lut­sky said that the author­i­ties con­tin­ue mon­i­tor­ing TUT.BY’s web­site and warned that it could be blocked if it vio­lates media or oth­er laws.

    On Octo­ber 2, the For­eign Min­istry adopt­ed new rules on for­eign mass media accred­i­ta­tion in Belarus and annulled all pre­vi­ous­ly issued accred­i­ta­tions. Under the new reg­u­la­tions, for­eign jour­nal­ists can work in Belarus, even on short report­ing trips, only if they are new­ly accred­it­ed. Accred­i­ta­tion is avail­able only to jour­nal­ists who are on staff at a for­eign media out­let, mak­ing it very dif­fi­cult for free­lance jour­nal­ists to work in Belarus. For­eign reporters must be cit­i­zens of the coun­try where their media employ­er is reg­is­tered, pos­ing chal­lenges for some inter­na­tion­al media out­lets.

    All jour­nal­ists with­out media cre­den­tials in Belarus risk admin­is­tra­tive and crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion for orga­niz­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in mass gath­er­ings on which they are in fact report­ing and risk pros­e­cu­tion for “ille­gal pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of mass media prod­ucts.” Media out­lets with­out accred­i­ta­tion are also banned from cov­er­ing state-orga­nized events.

    Print and Post Sub­scrip­tion Refusals

    In Octo­ber, Belaru­sian Post, the country’s postal ser­vice, refused to include in 2021 sub­scrip­tion pack­ets the inde­pen­dent news out­lets Bel­Gaze­ta, Kom­so­mol­skaya Prav­da v Belarusi, Nar­o­d­naya Volya, and Svo­bod­niye Novosti Plius. Postal sub­scrip­tions are a prime source of income for print media in Belarus. In August, the state-owned Belaru­sian Print House refused to print these out­lets, alleged­ly due to tech­ni­cal issues.

    On Novem­ber 13, the deputy chief edi­tor of Nar­o­d­naya Volya stat­ed that riot police con­fis­cat­ed all print copies of the news­pa­per. In Decem­ber, Belaru­sian Post sued Nar­o­d­naya Volya for fail­ing to sup­ply the print­ed issues since the end of August, when the print­ing house refused to print the news­pa­per, despite the Nar­o­d­naya Volya offered to sup­ply their issues print­ed by a pri­vate print­ing house.

    On Novem­ber 11, the Brest print­ing house stat­ed that it would refuse to print Brest­skaya Gaze­ta start­ing Jan­u­ary 1 after 18 years of coop­er­a­tion, alleged­ly for tech­ni­cal rea­sons. All oth­er Belaru­sian print­ing hous­es, the vast major­i­ty of which are state-owned, also refused to print the news­pa­per. This forced the out­let to switch to online report­ing, caus­ing it to lose 70 per­cent of its income. Since the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Brest­skaya Gazeta’s employ­ees also faced arbi­trary deten­tions, online threats, and police harass­ment:

    Even now peo­ple keep call­ing us, ask­ing whether the news­pa­per will get print­ed. They say, “We are wor­ried about you, hold on there. We are wait­ing for you.

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