Independent Belarusian media risk everything: East StratCom

The EU’s StratCom, which monitors and analyses disinformation in the Russian and pro-Russian media, as part of the EUvsDisinfo project, has conducted an overview of repressions experienced by independent Belarusian media. A report resulting from this study indicates that independent media in Belarus are under constant threat of repressions from Lukashenka’s regime. “Treason, extremism, beatings: independent media risk everything”.

Belarus declares Belsat news channel an ‘extremist’ organisation

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“The goal of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime is painfully obvious: independent media must not exist,” writes StratCom.

The authors of the report note that the attack on the independent media has been ongoing since the rigged elections in August 2020. The EUvsDisinfo quotes data provided by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and the information collected by the “Justice for Journalists” NGO.

TUT.by destroyed

In May 2021, the largest independent information portal, TUT.by was destroyed by the regime. Several people, including the head editors and employees, were arrested and accused of alleged tax fraud. They remain under arrest.

Although TUT.by was destroyed as a business and as a media portal, it has been revived as the Zerkalo.io portal published and edited by Belarussians living abroad, however, its reach is significantly smaller. The portal and its social media accounts have been blocked. In Belarus, Zerkalo.io, and other independent portals, are available only via a VPN.

Similarly, the Intex-Press newspaper has been deemed “extremist” due to an interview with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya that the newspaper published.

In the report, StratCom also recalls the arrest of Roman Protasevich, an opposition blogger, who was arrested after a direct Ryanair flight from Athens (Greece) to Vilnius (Lithuania) was forced to land in Minsk due to an alleged bomb threat. Moreover, the report lists a constantly growing number of news outlets and information portals being classified as “extremist”, such as Belsat television, a newspaper Tribuna.com, Hrodna.life portal, and hundreds of blogs and channels on Telegram. Practically, all major independent news and information channels are currently blocked in Belarus.

Dismantling of Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ)

The Belarusian Association of Journalists has also been dissolved. The organisation remains active abroad. The authorities have arrested journalists of Nasza Niwa and the BiełaPAN agency. The Editor-in-Chief of Nasza Niwa was beaten during his arrest. Andrei Aleksandrau of BiełaPAN has been accused of treason, while another arrested journalist, Dzianis Ivashyn, suffered a heart attack in prison.

Searches of offices and private homes of journalists in Brest, Orsha, Grodno, and other cities in Belarus have also been reported.

Growing numbers of arrested individuals

A new wave of attacks on independent media and individuals who have been vocal in social media followed an incident where a programmer Andrei Zeltser was killed in his home in Minsk during a raid conducted by the Belarusian KGB. Defending himself, Zeltser also shot and killed one of the KGB agents.

Over 200 people, who criticised the actions of the KGB, were detained, and at least 136 arrested for “inciting hatred” and “insulting an officer”, including a journalist of the Russian Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, Gennady Mozheiko.

Telegram deemed “extremist organisation”

In October 2021, Belarusian authorities introduced new legislation that allows them to deem Telegram chats and channels as “extremist”, and to charge their participants and authors with extremisms, which carries a jail sentence of up to seven years. For example, “the online repository” of Belsat television, which broadcasts from the territory of Poland, and an opposition blog NEXTA on Telegram has already been deemed “extremist”.

EUvsDisinfo also cites examples of arrests for sending links to “extremists” content.

Currently, 29 journalists and media employees remain under arrest in Belarus, according to the data provided by The Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Furthermore, the StratCom report indicates that Russian language foreign media, such as Deutsche Welle or Nastoyashcheye Vremya (Current Time TV) have become the new target of the Belarusian authorities.

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