Belarus Raids Independent News Outlets, Blocks Newspaper That Reported On Protests
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service July 08, 2021
Belarus has blocked the website of the country's oldest newspaper and raided the offices of several regional newspapers as authorities moved to silence nonstate media outlets critical of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a continuing crackdown on dissent following the strongman's reelection last year that the opposition and the West say was fraudulent.
Nasha Niva, which covered the protests in the wake of the election, said on July 8 that security forces had raided its office and detained its editor-in-chief, Yahor Martsinovich.
Nasha Niva had published videos showing police brutally detaining protesters during the antigovernment demonstrations.
Since the election in 2020, security forces have cracked down hard on journalists, rights defenders, and pro-democracy demonstrators, arresting more than 35,000 people and pushing many activists and most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.
Leading opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that besides Martsinovich, Nasha Niva journalists Andrey Skurko, Andrey Dynko, and office accountant Volha Rakovich were brought in for questioning.
The move comes after authorities in May cracked down on top independent news portal Tut.by, whose website was blocked and 12 of its journalists were also arrested. Also in May, authorities intercepted a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius and forced it to land in Minsk where they detained dissident blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend who were on board.
Nasha Niva was founded in 1906 and is the oldest and most authoritative Belarusian media outlet, with an online audience of more than 100,000.
Both Nasha Niva and Tut.by extensively covered months of protests against Lukashenka, which were triggered by his reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged.
Agents of the KGB, the Belarusian state security agency, also searched two regional media outlets, the Brest Gazette in the city of Brest on the border with Poland and Intex-Press in the city of Baranovichi.
In the eastern city of Orsha, authorities detained Ihar Kazmerchak, the editor of the Orsha.eu news portal, and searched the home of photographer Dzyanis Dubkou. In Bobruisk, also in the east, the KGB detained Alesya Latsinskaya, a journalist who worked for the independent Bobr.by news portal.
In the northeastern city of Vitebsk, freelance journalist Vital Skryl was detained and authorities raided the apartment of another local journalist, Dzmitry Kazakevich.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the election, who says she actually won the poll and fled the country after the vote under official pressure, said in a video message released on Twitter on July 8 that the regime was trying to silence the voice of the democratic opposition.
"The regime continues the crackdown on independent media. It is so afraid of the truth that more than 20 major media like TUT.by were already attacked," Tsikhanouskaya said.
"Nasha Niva is not just a website, it is the oldest Belarusian newspaper mentioned in every schoolbook on the history of Belarus. And this is how the regime treats our history. The regime tries to silence us and hide the truth about the fraudulent presidential election, about violence, tortures, and repressions. But we remember," Tsikhanousakaya said.
She also called on the international community "to provide practical support" for Belarus's independent media and journalists.
"I ask you to consider launching an emergency program, include in the plan legal aid to repressed journalists, technical assistance for media outlets, assistance to those media and reporters forced to flee Belarus and continue their work, support for Telegram and YouTube channels. They are creating the modern history of Belarus," Tsikhanouskaya said.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, AP, AFP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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