Tatsiana Ashurkevich – ECPMF Journalist-in-Residence
"The most important thing in working abroad is to deliver truthful information" – Reporting on Belarus in 2022


09 August 2022

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Tatsiana Ashurkevich is a journalist from Belarus who works with the news outlet Zerkalo.io. She graduated from the Institute of Journalism of the Belarusian State University. She previously worked as a journalist for Onliner.by. In July of 2021, Tatsiana was forced to leave Belarus for Kyiv. She left Ukraine at the start of the war. Her key professional interests include Belarusian politics and international relations.

Since the elections of 9 August 2020, the environment for media freedom in Belarus has declined dramatically. How do you view the situation there now? Do you think it will continue to deteriorate or is there a chance that it will improve?

The current situation with independent media in the country is the worst in the history of independent Belarus. 29 media workers are now in jail just for doing their jobs. Many mass media are called extremists and criminals by the authorities. Most independent media outlets work from abroad because it is impossible to imagine journalists working inside the country now. We can’t expect any improvement in this sphere, considering that repression in Belarus is getting worse and every day we hear about new detentions of people for a comment or a “like” on social networks. 


From the perspective of a journalist, is there any role media workers can play in improving the situation of political oppression in Belarus?

Activists inside the country can do nothing right now to improve the political situation. Now propagandists from TV screens, newspaper pages, and Telegram channels forbid people in Belarus from reading independent media and frighten them with threats of criminal liability for doing so. Journalists are a very important force from abroad, who continue to tell the truth in conditions of maximum suppression of the freedom of speech. And this is what helps people inside the country to not lose hope for change and to see that someone continues working according to the principles of democracy, not being afraid of the authorities, and not giving up under their pressure. 


The documentary PROTEST.BY: Onliner film about events in Belarus produced by your organisation, Zerkalo.io, mentioned that the participants who joined the demonstrations were mostly young people. Do you encourage young people to attend the demonstration or general political affairs? Any words to the young generation in Belarus?

I am a journalist, but not an activist, which is why I can’t and don’t want to call anyone anywhere. My job is to tell people in Belarus and abroad what is happening in their country. My role is to bring unbiased information to as many people as possible, as opposed to propaganda. And my desire is that on the basis of this truthful information, people, including young people, make conclusions for themselves about the situation in the country and understand their role in building an independent democratic Belarus.  


You were detained once by the police in Belarus. The news said that the police kept you to check documents. Would you be willing to tell us more about that and your experiences in this situation? Are there still any of your colleagues being held by the police?

My case of detention by the police is probably the mildest one imaginable. The police detained me during a search of my colleague from Press Club Belarus. I went to her house to tell her readers what was going on in her home. After a while, the police came to her house and asked me to go to the car along with two colleagues from other publications. We were brought to one of the police stations, they politely checked our documents and released us. I was very lucky, because at the time some of my colleagues had already been detained while covering civil protests and sentenced to 24 hours of administrative detention. 


There are few independent journalists at large in Belarus today. Unfortunately, it looks like the journalistic community will be crushed by the authorities through criminal cases, new long prison sentences, and pushing to leave the country. 


As we all know, lots of people have left and continue to leave Belarus, including journalists. Do you think it is still possible to report on the internal situation from the outside?

This is the only thing we have left. Of course, it has become more difficult for us to work, because people in Belarus are afraid to talk about what is happening inside the country. But we still have sources and people who are willing to take risks and tell journalists on condition of anonymity what is happening in Belarus. It makes our work much easier. It enables us to tell what is happening and to continue giving unbiased information to Belarusians in spite of resistance from the authorities. 


From the perspective of telling the story of oppressive governments, is it preferable to report from inside the country while putting yourself at risk or outside of the country in relative safety, with more restricted access to information and sources?

It is impossible for independent journalists to work from Belarus right now. Any public activity puts his health and freedom at risk. And most likely, after any such reportage, he will soon be detained by the law enforcement authorities. This is the reason why the only chance to do independent news and independent journalism is abroad. 


Do you think exiled reporting can have the same journalistic impact on audiences as on the ground reporting?

Yes, the people in Belarus understand the conditions under which journalists work. They help us and are very supportive, constantly thanking us for our work. The most important thing in working abroad is to deliver truthful information. And if the audience believes you, they will trust your texts, even if you are not working directly from the country; simply because they understand the risks that journalists are taking.  

Interview conducted by Yu-Ching Chen, Press and Communications Intern at ECPMF. Lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

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