Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy: Recognition of Belsat and its audience as ‘extremist formation’ is intimidation


Belsat is the first media outlet, whose viewers and readers, united through Internet services, were recognized by the Belarusian Interior Ministry as an extremist group, which may lead to criminal responsibility. This is a cudgel that the Belarusian authorities may use at any time against our journalists, viewers, and readers.

Subscribers of the blogger NEXTA were previously granted the same status. However, in addition to the media activities, he conducts organizational and propaganda activities on the side of the Belarusian opposition. Belsat, meanwhile, not only informs its audience, but also promotes Belarusian culture and language, popularizes history, and entertains. It films documentaries, which in the past have been awarded even at official Belarusian festivals. Thus, it is a full-fledged cross-platform media outlet.

The recognition of the channel as “extremist formation” by the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs is not quite clear to us. However, we can expect it to give reasons to Alyaksandr Lukashenka to repress not only journalists but also subscribers of our channels in social networks. And this is a large number of people. Almost half a million people are subscribed to the YouTube channel Belsat News. It is entirely in the Belarusian language and thus almost exclusively Belarusian-oriented.

Until now, our subscribers could have been prosecuted for publishing “extremist materials,” as Belsat products were classified. However, they faced “only” an administrative penalty — a fine or arrest. Now subscribing to a channel or joining us on social networks can be regarded as participation in an “extremist formation.” Such people can now face penalties of up to 7 years in prison under the Criminal Code.

This is yet another proof of the importance the Belarusian authorities attach to Belsat. This is not the only sign of this interest. Recently, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s largest tabloid and probably Putin’s favorite newspaper tried to interview me aggressively. The marginal Polish magazine Myśl Polska (Polish Thought) published an article with a similar tone. In this context, the recognition of Belsat and its viewers and readers in social networks as an extremist group does not seem a coincidence.

The main purpose of the regime’s actions is to intimidate Belarusians so that they are afraid to even read our materials, let alone subscribe, like or repost them. However, our readers in Belarus have already been arrested several times for that, even for two weeks. The Belarusian authorities could have imprisoned or convicted any person on trumped-up and absolutely unbelievable charges even without that.

In addition, Belarusian law turns out to be an extremely flexible structure. The wording of the Belarusian Interior Ministry can mean the most serious sanctions or nothing at all. After all, the courts can use this classification, but they don’t have to. It is a handy knuckleduster or a suitable cudgel for Belarusian “justice.”

Belsat journalist Iryna Slaunikava and her husband Alyaksandr Loyka remain in custody. They have been imprisoned for two weeks for the “publication of extremist materials” from our channel. We can only hope that Iryna and Alyaksandr will be released after serving their sentence and will not be charged with participating in an extremist group.

Sample photo. Belsat TV studio in Warsaw, Poland. Photo: USH / Belsat

For Belsat, it’s a real hardship because we live in symbiosis with our readers. We are loyal to them and they are loyal to us. But we will not close our channel because of this. It should be seen as just another challenge. And looking at it more philosophically, I wonder why the Belarusian people have to suffer so much. After all, the madness that has reigned in Belarus is indescribable. But I hope that the bad will finally come to an end.

We consider the interest in Belsat and its audience, shown by the Interior Ministry, as a kind of proof of recognition. The existence of the channel is so significant and painful for the Belarusian authorities that they have to resort to such absurd steps.

Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, director of Belsat TV channel

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