The Belarus regime’s crackdown on civil society continues

Protest banner reading “Fair elections. Tribunal. Freedom for political prisoners,” held at protest rally on August 16, 2020 in Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Wikipedia user Homoatrox, CC BY-SA 3.0.

This story is based on an update by IFEX, prepared by IFEX’s Europe and Central Asia Regional Editor, Cathal Sheerin, and edited and republished on Global Voices under a media partnership agreement. IFEX (International Freedom of Expression Exchange) is a global network of organizations that work in defense of freedom of expression. See the full chronology here.

Reported cases of persecuted journalists in Belarus have fallen since 2020, but not for any positive reason: imprisonments, forced exile and decisions to abandon such a risky profession mean there are simply fewer journalists left to persecute. 

In June, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reported that its logo had been listed as “extremist” content, putting those who use it — or have items bearing it — at risk of prosecution. BAJ, which was also labelled “extremist” by the authorities earlier this year and liquidated by the politicized Supreme Court in 2021, has warned all journalists in Belarus to remove any items bearing the logo from their homes and offices.

June also saw access to BAJ’s website blocked in Russia.

The number of political prisoners in Belarus continues to rise; according to Human Rights Center Viasna, by the end of June, there were 1,496 individuals languishing behind bars on politically-motivated charges. Among these prisoners is Tatsiana Pytsko, who was detained early in the month and charged with “creating or participating in an extremist organization.” The charges against her are based on alleged assistance she gave to her cameraman husband (jailed in February) in the course of his work; her detention brings the number of media workers detained in Belarus to 34.

Several IFEX members and other rights groups highlighted the cases of two high-profile political prisoners in June — prominent opposition figure Maria Kalesnikava and human rights defender Nasta Loika —  and called for their immediate release.

Kalesnikava, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2021, is currently in solitary confinement and has been denied adequate access to medical treatment and legal representation. Loika, who has been tortured in detention, was handed a seven-year prison sentence during a closed trial this month; her prosecution was based on her work investigating human rights violations carried out by law enforcement officials.

A useful overview of the situation for independent journalists in Belarus was published this month by BAJ and Justice for Journalists. Their report, which mainly focuses on the period 2021–2022, examines several tools of persecution employed by the authorities against critical media. These include judicial harassment, violence, ill treatment in detention and cyber attacks (instances of the latter rose sharply during 2020–2021).  While it would appear that fewer cases of persecution are being reported now, it is likely that there are just fewer journalists to persecute, as they are imprisoned, choose exile or simply choose to abandon the profession.


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