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Belarus Rounds Up Independent Journalists

At least a dozen journalists have been arrested since Tuesday in one of the biggest crackdowns in several years.

9 August 2018

The arrests began Tuesday, when police detained five journalists during raids on the offices of news outlets BelaPAN and Tut.by in what the Belarusian Investigative Committee said was part of a criminal case involving unauthorized access to embargoed news produced by the state news agency BelTa, RFE/RL reported.

 

Yesterday, Deutsche Welle reporter Paulyuk Bykowski (pictured) was taken in, along with a journalist for an economic website. Also yesterday, the chief editor and three journalists from an online real-estate sheet were detained. Colleagues said they would likely be questioned in connection with the BelTa case, RFE writes today.

 

Two more journalists were detained today in the same case, including the chief editor of BelaPAN, Iryna Leushyna, the Investigative Committee said.

 

The arrest of Bykowski, a Belarusian citizen, followed a radio appearance on foreign-based Euroradio.fm in which he discussed Tuesday’s raids, Politico reports.

 

His wife, Volha Bykowskaya, told DW police took away a computer, tablets, phones, and other property from their house following a two-hour search. Germany's Foreign Ministry called on Minsk to respect press freedom and refrain from disproportionate actions against journalists. The OSCE’s media freedom representative Harlem Desir expressed concern over what he called "the highly disproportionate measures taken by law enforcement against two independent news agencies.”

 

In recent months the government of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signaled a more aggressive stance toward online media, where most critical news and comment appears. Two sites were briefly blocked at the turn of the year. Around the same time, Lukashenka set up an inter-agency commission on information security including representatives of the state-run media and the security agencies.

 

The Warsaw-based Belsat online and TV news outlet, which is often critical of Lukashenka, has been hit with a number of fines and several of its journalists were detained last month, The Washington Post reported earlier this week.

 

Police have issued 63 fines to journalists this year, totaling more than $27,000, or more than $400 per fine – almost equal to an average monthly salary, The Post said.

 

“Independent journalists in Belarus assume that their offices are bugged and that co-workers are spying on them. Reporters are trained to watch for signs that they are being followed,” The Post added.

 

 

  • The government further strengthened its new policy toward online media in the spring when it proposed amendments permitting social media to be blocked in order to remove certain content and forcing authors of online posts and comments to be identified. The parliament duly adopted the amendments in June.

 

  • Employees of online media outlets which do not register with the authorities can no longer expect to be considered journalists, Information Minister Aleksandr Karlyukevich said when the amendments were proposed.

 

  • Belarus’s Nobel literature laureate Svetlana Alexievich told RFE the arrests of journalists are “an attempt to intimidate us all. … There is a test: whether we exist as a society that is capable of offering civil resistance."

Compiled by Ky Krauthamer

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