July 9, 2021
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) remains highly concerned by the continuing onslaught on independent media in Belarus, which appears to have taken yet another turn for the worse this week. We reiterate our call on the authorities of Belarus to immediately and unconditionally release all arrested journalists, media workers and political prisoners. We also call again on the European Union and its member states to further increase the pressure on President Lukashenka and his collaborators and to further expand practical and financial support for Belarus’ independent journalists, media workers and outlets.
On 8 July 2021, authorities raided the offices of Naša Niva and the homes of several of its staff, arrested several journalists including editor-in-chief Jahor Marcinovič, and blocked access to the website of the popular independent online publication, which is one of the oldest Belarusian newspapers. As reported by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the information ministry said that the website had been blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office in connection with the distribution of content banned under the Media Law. Marcinovič was arrested as he was walking his dog and brought to his apartment, which was searched. He was placed in custody for 72 hours as a suspect in criminal proceedings for alleged “organising or taking an active part in group actions grossly disturbing public order” (Part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code). According to the Associated Press, Marcinovič needed medical attention during his interrogation. The BAJ reports that also the homes of deputy editor-in-chief Andrej Dyńko, editor Andrej Skurko and chief accountant Voĺha Rakovič were searched and they were all brought in for questioning. Skurko remains in detention.
Also yesterday, officers of state security service KGB also searched two regional media outlets, the Brestskaya Gazeta in Brest and Intex-Press in the city of Baranavichi. In Orsha, authorities questioned Ihar Kazmiarchak, human rights activist and editor of orsha.eu newsportal, about damage to urban spaces with political slogans and detained him for 72 hours. In the same town, the home of photographer Dzyanis Dubkou was searched. In Bobruisk, the KGB detained Alesya Latsinskaya, a journalist who worked for the independent bobr.by newsportal. And in Vitebsk, freelance journalist Vital Skryl was interrogated and detained for 72 hours as a suspect under Article 369 of the Criminal Code (insulting a government official). The authorities also raided the house of another local journalist, Zmitser Kazakevič, head of BAJ-Vitebsk. In the same region, freelance journalist Zmitser Lupač was detained by the KGB at the Plisa resort, where he was on vacation. His wife told the BAJ that police had also come to his home.
Yesterday’s repression brings the total number of media workers currently in prison in Belarus to 32. Reportedly, additional searches are being carried out today at the time of writing, as the Belarusian authorities move to further silence critical journalists and shutter independent outlets in the wake of mass protests that have followed last year’s rigged presidential elections.