On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of State has published its 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. In the paper on the human rights situation in Belarus, American diplomats focus on, among other things, the persecution of Belsat TV and its contributors.
“Belarus is an authoritarian state. The constitution provides for a directly elected president who is head of state and a bicameral parliament, the National Assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both in fact and in law. Citizens were unable to choose their government through free and fair elections. Since his election as president in 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees,” the report reads.
The US side stresses that the Belarusian government refused to register some foreign media, such as Poland-based Belsat Television and Radio Racyja, and routinely fined freelance journalists working for them.
“As of September 25, at least 17 journalists were fined in 38 cases for not having government accreditation or for cooperating with a foreign media outlet. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, freelance journalists received fines totaling more than 35,000 rubles ($17,200). Most of the fines were imposed on journalists working for Belsat Television,” the authors of the report say.
The Department of State also recalls April’s police raid on Belsat TV’s Minsk office and confiscation of its computer equipment:
“The Investigative Committee press service indicated that the search was related to an unspecified defamation case. According to Belsat journalist Ales Zaleuski, the criminal case might have been connected to an article in which Belsat Television incorrectly reported that Andrei Shved, the head of the Committee for Forensic Examination, had been detained. Belsat Television issued a retraction and apology, and the committee returned the computer equipment on April 11.”
On February 1, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Lukashenka in Minsk. The event is regarded as the highest-level US official’s visit in the last 26 years: as far back as the year of 1994, the then US President Bill Clinton arrived in Belarus.
In the course of the meeting Pompeo stressed that the United States would continue to pay attention to human rights issues and promote reforms in Belarus.