RSF denounces coordinated raids against media in Belarus

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Authorities arrested at least 11 journalists, carried out more than 20 searches and blocked three news sites during the crackdown, which began yesterday morning.

The first targeted media in the capital, Minsk, was Nasha Niva, one of the oldest and most popular newspapers in the country, now only available online. When the police raided its premises yesterday morning, it took a particular interest in its accounting department.

Police also raided the homes of four staff, including the editor. Yahor Martsinovich, who was arrested by masked officers while walking his dog, was escorted back to his apartment and subsequently placed under arrest. The investigation committee said he had received “medical treatment” for a head injury.

The deputy editor-in-chief of the newspaper, Andrei Skurko, an accountant and Andrei Dynko, the editor of Nasha Istoriya, a magazine linked to the newspaper, were imprisoned for causing a serious disturbance to public order. Journalist Natallia Lubneuskaya and photographr Shura Pilipovich-Sushchsyts were also detained, interrogated and released.

Local media have also been targeted in several regions. Ihar kazmerchak, the editor of Orcha, an independent news site based in the northeastern town of Orsha, was arrested and charged with causing property damage, while his family and friends were questioned about the damage to the buildings of the city with political graffiti. Dzianis Dubko, a photographer working for the site, was also arrested after a search, but was released a few hours later.

In the western region of Brest, near the Polish border, KGB agents raided the offices of the Intex-press online media and grabbed all of its editorial material. The houses of its publishers, Vladimir Yanukovych and Ruslan Revyako, were searched and the two journalists were subsequently invited to come forward for questioning in connection with a terrorism investigation. Similar grounds were given for a search of the offices of Media-Polesye. Other journalists have been remanded in custody for “insult” or “defamation”.

“The last independent Belarusian journalists are subject to an exceptionally large roundup worthy of the darkest hours in the country’s history,” said Jeanne Cavelier, head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia office. “Authorities are using false accusations to try to cover up the media that covered the protests after the controversial presidential election last summer. As a result of these coordinated raids, at least 22 journalists are now being held in Belarusian prisons for doing their jobs. We call for the release of all detained journalists and urge the authorities to end this unacceptable harassment of independent media.

The Ministry of Information also blocked Nasha Niva’s website and at least two other media sites – Dev.by, a site specializing in new technologies, and the mirror site of Euroradio, a radio station in exile whose Minsk office was closed by the authorities on July 5.

Belarus has been ruled since 1994 by President Alexander Lukashenko, a press freedom predator who did not hesitate to hijack a Ryanair passenger flight on May 23 in order to stop Raman Pratasevich, the publisher of the Telegram news channel FOLLOWING.

The most dangerous country in Europe for journalists, Belarus is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in the RSF 2021 World Press Freedom Index.


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