Belarus: the government intensifies its crackdown on independent journalists and media
Belarusian authorities arrested and searched the houses of several independent journalists across the country for simply doing their job on 1 December. The European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ-IFJ) join their Belarussian affiliate, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), in solidarity with the journalists affected and condemn the government’s systematic harassment of independent journalists.
The Belarusian police arrested at least four journalists in three different locations across the country on charges of “funding anti-government protests”. The officers also confiscated some of their equipment.
According to BAJ, journalists Valeryia Lepeshava and Siarhei Niarouny were detained by the Belarusian police in the eastern region of Mahiliou and later released. Siarhei Niarouny, the former editor-in-chief of the Volny horad newspaper, had already been detained in October 2021 and his equipment was confiscated for allegedly “distributing extremist material”. His apartment had initially been searched in January 2021.
The home of journalist Larysa Shchyrakova in the country’s southeastern part was also searched for one hour and she was interrogated. Larysa worked for the opposition channel Belsat TV and claimed her house was raided twice in the past.
The fourth journalist, Nadzeya Vitsina, was briefly detained and her house searched in West Belarus “in connection with her personal correspondence”.
BAJ said that raiding, detaining independent journalists for brief periods and closing media houses are common practices by Lukashenko’s regime. The organisation, which was itself recently dissolved by a court’s decision, has been recording the attacks and violations of media freedom in 2021.
At least 29 journalists and media workers are currently being held in detention centres and penal colonies, according to the union’s monitoring. Between January and September 2021, over 100 media outlets and political news platforms were closed down by the Ministry of Information, including international media.
On 4 November, the Ministry of Information of Belarus also blocked access to the BAJ’s website in Belarus.
EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez said: “These searches and interrogations aim to intimidate journalists in a context of massive repression against freedom of expression. Dictator Lukashenko’s regime is constantly violating the rule of law. We call on the international community to take action against those responsible for this new wave of repression.”
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: “This wave of searches and arrests creates a hostile environment in Belarus, where independent media is already struggling to survive. We strongly denounce the systematic harassment of independent journalists and call on the international community to speak out against Lukashenko’s government abuses.”