Belsat TV contributors Larysa Shchyrakova and Kastus Zhukouski must have sparked interest from the military counter-intelligence department of Belarus’ State Security Committee (KGB).
On September 29, Yauhen Merkis, a teacher of and Chairman of Talaka, a Homel-based local history association, came to the regional executive committee’s justice department to clear up a number of issues related to the organization and its 30th anniversary which is to be celebrated this year.
Talaka was founded in 1986, when a married couple, young journalists Tatsiana Sapach and Syarhei Dubavets, got their first jobs in Homiel. The husband and wife were the only Belarusian-speaking employees, which was something new for the city of that time.
At the end of the meeting the officials told Yauhen that someone wanted to talk to him in the next room.
“The man who called himself Alyaksandr asked what Talaka’s main objectives were. When I wondered whether he was an employee of the KGB, he just said ‘yes’. At the same time, in front of him there was a folder with archival documents on Talaka’s activities, where our goals are laid out in detail,” Yauhen told Novy Chas.
Merkis asked to officially summon him, but the KGB officer said he would rather put some questions right then and there.
“He refused to show his ID and repeatedly called our country Byelorussia [a Soviet name – Belsat], not Belarus,” Merkis stressed.
According to the activist, ‘Alyaksandr’ urged him not to criticise Felix Dzerzhinsky [Cheka leader – Belsat] saying that U.S. president Barack Obama who ‘unleashed a war’ and was guilty of many people’s deaths was doing the same things. The officer made Merkis spend a lot of time in the room and prevented him from taking pictures.
Asked trivial questions like ‘Since when have you been a member of Talaka?’ or ‘How many people are there in your organization?’ Yauhen recommended the KGB agent to look up in the documents that were right under very nose of him. Finally, ‘Alyaksandr’ admitted to having a special interest in two Talaka members – reporters Larysa Shchyrakova and Kastus Zhukouski.
“Do Shchyrakova and Zhukovsky work for Belsat TV?” he asked. “I do not know, but you can send a formal request to Warsaw. This will be a hit! It will definitely go viral on the Internet. I think you will not even have to wait for any response,” Merkis told the officer.
“I believe the KGB’s curiosity was caused by their desire to learn more about the activity of independent journalists in Homiel. Shchyrakova and Zhukouski have recently managed to draw public attention to a number of social and criminal problems of the region. Perhaps, they are trying to dig up some dirt on them. The parliamentary elections are over, and the authorities no longer need to play liberals,” Merkis said.
Heavy fines have been repeatedly imposed on Kastus Zhukouski and Larysa Shchyrakova for their contribution to Belsat TV. This year, Zhukouski has already been fined 7 times. Protesting against unfair decisions, he even sewed his mouth.