The Washington Post, one of the largest and oldest US media outlets, has published an article about the situation of independent media in Belarus. Its author, Cheryl Reed, told the stories of Belsat TV journalists and gave the details of the pressure on the channel.
According to the author, the Belarusian government is cracking down on journalists who report without its permission, issuing the most fines since the country’s independence and adopting a restrictive online media.
“The media are on the edge of survival and under threat,” Barys Haretski, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), told The Washington Post.
The online TV news channel Belsat has received the brunt of the government’s fines, detentions and arrests, the author stressed and and referred to the Hrodna police’s raiding the flats of two Belsat contributors (Ales Dzyanisau and Alyaksei Kairys) and confiscating their equipment in July. Cheryl Reed also recalled that the Belarusian authorities had recently detained the journalistic duo, Volha Czajczyc and Andrus Kozel, and threatened to take away a car belonging to one of them if they didn’t pay fines of $7,369. Moreover, since May, Belsat reporter Larysa Shchyrakova has been repeatedly fined $500 for live-streaming on her Facebook page a hunger strike involving mothers protesting harsh drug laws. During a court appearance, Shchyrakova wore gauze over her lips in protest.
And unfortunately, the list of persecuted and fined journalists includes far more names…
“It is a very tense moment. We don’t have any other options but to keep paying the fines and to keep working. It makes the stories much more expensive. The fines are also connected with increased intimidation. Most of our reporters are young people, and the KGB is intimidating their families — their mothers and fathers. We’re trying to cope,” the newspaper quotes Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of Belsat TV.
The author also turned the spotlight into the case of another livestreamer, Katsyaryna Andreyeva, who had been repeatedly detained for covering the protests against opening the restaurant Let’s Go and Eat at Kurapaty, a Stalin-era execution site and mass grave near Minsk. During her first detention she was strip-searched after police accused her, falsely, of having a hidden camera on her body.
Belsat’s Ihar Ilyash, who gives much time to journalistic investigations, has been mentioned in the article as well. In 2017, Ilyash and Andreyeva published the results of their investigation into several Belarusian enterprises’ trade with companies controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Donbas. Interestingly, soon after the publication, Kyiv imposed sanctions on two of these enterprises in Minsk and Mazyr.
Belsat TV investigative journalist Stas Ivashkevich is frequently sued in civil court, The Washington Post said. His latest case dragged on for four months. On July 25, the judge rejected the plaintiff’s demand for damages to its business reputation but required Ivashkevich to publicly apologize for using the word ‘corrupt’ in his reports.
The article brings up many issues that are unconfortable for the Belarusian government, including that of accreditation. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has repeatedly declared that it could not issue any accreditation to Belsat because the journalists working for the TV station … break the law.
Thus, the circle closes: journalists are denied accreditation because they break the law and they break the law, because they work without accreditation that they seek. And it explains the existence of absurdist Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code, which provides punishment for ‘illegal production and distribution of media products’. If you have accreditation, you are allowed be a journalist. If you do not have it – you are outlawed.
Because of the work in the ‘partisan’ conditions, Belsat employees are often on trial for illegal production of media materials (Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code) and work without accreditation. In 2017 alone, Belsat contributors paid to the state as much as $14,000 in fines. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, last year, 94% of fines for alleged illegal manufacturing of media materials fell on the journalists of Belsat.
It is telling that in spite of being repeatedly asked by The Washington Post, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry failed to answer the question about accreditation and clarify the situation.
КА, belsat.eu, following The Washington Post