FIDH and Viasna condemn new attacks on independent media in Belarus

2021 2021-07-09T15:53:34+0300 2021-07-09T17:43:51+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/silowiki.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

9 July, 2021, Paris - Minsk. Yesterday, law enforcement officials organised a widescale crackdown on independent media in Belarus. Offices of at least five media outlets were raided and a number of their employees were detained. Criminal cases were initiated against the employees of Nasha Niva, one of the oldest and largest independent media in Belarus, its website was shutdown. Two more outlets are threatened with extremist labels. FIDH and Viasna condemn the ongoing attacks which threaten to destroy the last free media in Belarus and what is left of freedom of expression and association in the country.

In the morning of 8 July, representatives of Belarusian law-enforcing bodies came with searches to the office of Nasha Niva. [1] Searches were also conducted in the apartments of editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich, editors Andrei Skurko and Andrei Dynko, and accountant Volha Rakovich. All four were detained as suspects under Art. 342 of the Criminal Code (“Organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them”). The outlet’s website has been shut down.

Other media concerned by searches include some of the largest Brest regional news outlets: Brest Newspaper, Intex-Press, and Media-Polesye. The editor of another Brest media, First Region, Aleh Supruniuk, was wrongfully fined for spreading mate-rials deemed extremist. Earlier Intex-Press faced similar charges for publishing an interview with Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Further searches took place yesterday in the apartments of Ihar Kazmerchak, editor of one of Orsha’s largest news portals, Orsha.eu, and photographer Dzianis Dubkou. Both were detained. Kazmerchak is suspected of violating Art. 218 of the Criminal Code (“Intentional destruction or damage to property”).

Earlier, on 18 May, the Department of Financial Investigations of Belarus raided the country’s largest independent media TUT.by, arresting 15 of its employees. [2] On 8 July, the Ministry of Information blocked the access to another website opened by the TUT.by team which managed to flee the country. Both resources remain inacces-sible from Belarus. Additionally, the Ministry of Interior requested to declare extre-mist the TUT.by website.

Same charges threaten Telegram-channel Hrodna.life. In June 2021, its editor Aliaksei Shota, already received a fine of 14,500 BYN (almost €4,800) for “spreading extremist materials”.

Apartments of at least four more journalists working for Onliner, Belsat, and Bobr.by were searched on July 8 and 9. Another independent journalist Vital Skryl was targeted under Art. 369 (“Insult to a representative of authority”). As new facts emerge every hour, more journalists are likely being detained, and more offices raided, as we speak.

The above actions severely curb the ability of journalists to gather and disseminate information, individually and as part of a media structure, in violation of Articles 19 and 22, freedom of expression and association, respectively, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). FIDH, together with its member organisation in Belarus, Viasna HRC, strongly condemn the repressions against independent journalists, and call for an immediate termination of legal harass-ment against media from the Belarusian authorities, as well as an urgent and firm reaction to the ongoing events from the international community.

Footnotes:

[1It is not yet known who it was exactly, most likely the central office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and/or GUBAZiK, the department combating corruption and organ-ised crime.

[2Including the director Liudmila Chekina, deputy director Iryna Rybalka, editor-in-chief Maryna Zola-tava, editor of the politics desk Volha Loika, and a journalist Alena Talkachova, as well as the company’s accountant, engineer, technical director, manager, former and present law-yers, and the widow of Yury Zisser, TUT.by founder, Yuliya Charniauskaya.

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