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  • Harassment of journalists breaks records in Belarus – nearly 100 fines so far this year

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Belarusian government’s international partners to react to the surge in its persecution of journalists, with nearly 100 fines imposed already this year on reporters working for exile media – an all-time record.

    No few­er than 99 fines have been slapped on Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists “work­ing with for­eign media with­out accred­i­ta­tion” so far in 2018 – 91 of them on reporters work­ing for just one media out­let, Bel­sat TV, a Belaru­sian exile TV chan­nel based in neigh­bour­ing Poland.

    “This unprece­dent­ed spate of fines is designed sole­ly to gag inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s East­ern Europe and Cen­tral Asia desk. “It is part of an all-out harass­mentcam­paign against the country’s last crit­i­cal media voic­es. Belarus’ inter­na­tion­al part­ners must, as a mat­ter of urgency, press the author­i­ties to stop this.”

    The meth­ods used are clas­sic. The author­i­ties force inde­pen­dent media to base them­selves out­side the coun­try and then refuse to give press accred­i­ta­tion to their cor­re­spon­dents, which means they have to work ille­gal­ly. The rate at which fines are being issued is ris­ing expo­nen­tial­ly: 10 in 2016, 69 in 2017 and now 99 so far this year.

    Some jour­nal­ists get spe­cial atten­tion. After 10 fines last year, Bel­sat TV jour­nal­ist Kas­tus Zhuk­ous­ki has already received 12 this year, totalling 4,700 euros. Vol­ha Chay­chyts, who also works for Bel­sat TV, got sev­en fines last year and has already received nine this year, totalling 3,880 euros. The aver­age month­ly salary in Belarus is about 400 euros.

    Along with the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ) and many oth­er inter­na­tion­al NGOs, RSF has been call­ing for an over­haul of the for­eign media accred­i­ta­tion law ever since its adop­tion in 2008. But the author­i­ties have kept on tough­en­ing media leg­is­la­tion instead of relax­ing it.

    Amend­ments adopt­ed in June extend­ed the accred­i­ta­tion sys­tem to online media. And a recent cab­i­net decree con­di­tioned all broad­cast per­mits for for­eign media on exam­i­na­tion of the media’s con­tent by a com­mis­sion that reports to the infor­ma­tion min­istry.

    Belarus is ranked 155th out of 180 coun­tries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Free­dom Index.

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