Prokopenyagate: who and why is hiding truth?

Two years ago, many people read about the arrest of a well-known businessman. But today one of the main news of 2015 has almost disappeared from the Belarusian media space. A number of information resources – including independent ones – deleted archival publications about the detention of Viktor Prokopenya.

On April 11, 2015, a well-known IT bussinessman Viktor Prokopenya was detained and charged with “illegal business activities as part of an organized criminal group.” After nine months’ stay in Minsk prison, Prokopenya, who did not admit his guilt, was released. Then the investigators reported that the entrepreneur completely repaid the damage to the state. The amount was roughly a million US dollars. This information was later quietly deleted or corrected by many Belarusian media, including independent ones. Meanwhile, all charges of Viktor Prokopenya were dropped, and he himself became very well liked by Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Prokopenya was accused of illegal business activities. He was released after fully compensating the damage of up to $ 650 thousand dollars. The criminal case against him was stopped directly by Lukashenka.

After the release, the businessman and his representatives applied to a number of Internet editions to delete articles about his arrest.

Many media representatives listened to the request of the businessman.

Not only the former employee of the “Belarusian Partisan” Dzmitry Halko, but also the editor-in-chief of the “New Times” Aksana Kolb, openly admit it.

Difficulties with finding the materials about Prokopenya also arose on the TUT.BY portal. But, as the founder of the resource Yury Zisser explains, it happened without the consent of the management.

“This was not authorized. It was not a decision from above. Prokopenya contacted me in the spring, I refused him,” he said.

A number of media outlets still have not commented on the case.

Meanwhile, Viktor Prokopenya really started with a clean slate. Alongside Lukashenka, he actively advertises Decree #8 “On Development of Digital Economy”, which is now in force.

For Belarus this situation is not only new, but also exceptional. After all, it does not primarily impact Viktor Prokopenya’s image, but the reputation of independent media. The Belarusian Association of Journalists has stated that it does not yet have an official position on this issue and is waiting for an official appeal to the BAJ Ethics Commission.

We met with the person behind the media investigation, independent media analyst Uladzimir Baranich.

Belsat: ‘Radio Liberty’ spoke with the editors of the independent media outlets mentioned in your investigation. The editor of the “Novy Chas” Aksana Kolb said that the topic is not worth discussing at all and that “no one did anything terrible”. And how do you assess what you managed to put on public?

Baranich: I think this is a terrible event. People of my generation remember the Orwellian novel “1984” and how paper content was deleted there. Most importantly, the society is deprived of the opportunity to obtain at any time the information that society has the right to get. Imagine that it was printed on paper, would they start ripping it out of the newspapers?

This situation is absurd. The fact that that a private individual is applying with a request to delete content to the mass media … I see that there is such a real ‘holy war’ in the Internet, a very intense discussion, people are not indifferent. Although I put up this list already 4 months ago, it was hanging there until it was noticed, and, indeed, a lot of attention was paid to it.

He [Prokopenya] is like a hero who has uncovered this abscess of rotten media. This is his own business: he can demand anything. Another thing is that the media should not go for it.

See also