Human rights defenders alarmed by unprecedented attack on critical bloggers
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” is concerned about the situation of blogger Andrei Pavuk, who was arrested on March 20.
Pavuk was detained for having allegedly used his computer to email a fake bomb threat to the local government building in the town of Akciabrski, Homieĺ region. The blogger was detained for questioning, but soon released. He was officially named a suspect in the case in a message released by the Investigative Committee’s press office.
Andrei Pavuk is a known vlogger and a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. He runs a YouTube blog exposing abuse by local authorities.
In February, criminal charges were brought against blogger Siarhei Piatrukhin, who was accused of slandering and insulting a police officer. Earlier this month, another blogger, Aliaksandr Kabanau was accused of misappropriation of funds.
“The case of Andrei Pavuk resembles the case of Homieĺ human rights activist Leanid Sudalenka, whose e-mail account was allegedly used to send obscene videos to the city tax inspection and the regional office of the Investigative Committee,” Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, said in a comment.
According to the human rights activist, the case is a sign of intensified repression in the Internet on the eve of elections to be held later this year.
“Obviously, there is a political motive in the persecution of Siarhei Piatrukhin, Aliaksandr Kabanau, and now Andrei Pavuk. Because what they all have in common is that they are engaged in civic activities, shooting videos, openly criticizing the government, and now all of them almost at the same time are involved in criminal cases.
And it is more like a trend. We hope that these cases will not be brought to court, since we cannot speak of any criminal offense,” Valiantsin Stefanovich said.
According to Stefanovich, over the past few years, the sphere of online media has seen a drastic decline in terms of respect for human rights, as more independent journalists have been subjected to administrative responsibility for cooperation with foreign media, the government has enforced new restrictive amendments to media laws and tightened its already strict control over the Internet. Now the government is actively attacking independent bloggers.
“We are very concerned about it all, and we will closely monitor the situation, react properly in case of necessity,” Stefanovich said.