Belarus locks up journalists for exposing false charges against protesters

Nataliya Vasilyeva
·2-min read
Riot police detain an opposition supporter during a rally in central Minsk - TASS
Riot police detain an opposition supporter during a rally in central Minsk - TASS

The Belarusian regime has stepped up efforts to silence local journalists as the eyes of the world move on from ongoing protests against president Alexander Lukashenko.

Members of the press have been targeted by riot police since massive protests against Mr Lukashenko’s dubious re-election began in August.

Dozens of Belarusian journalists have been arrested at opposition rallies and thrown to jail for up to 15 days, ostensibly for taking part in illegal gatherings.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists has recorded 77 journalists sentenced to jail time, serving over 900 combined days behind bars.

“When you send a reporter to cover protests these days you never know if they’ll be coming home,” Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief of the popular media outlet, told the Telegraph. “This is not how it should be.”

Mr Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissent took a menacing turn last week when security officers arrested’s reporter Kaciaryna Barysevich who wrote an article debunking the Belarusian president’s claim that the protester who died in hospital after he was beaten by police was drunk.

The death of Roman Bondarenko earlier this month became yet another rallying point for the opposition protesting against Mr Lukashenko’s increasingly violent rule.

Belarus earlier this year ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the World Press Index by Reporters Without Borders.

Ms Barysevich, the 36-year-old reporter, was sent to the infamous KGB jail and now awaits formal charges.

Prosecutors handling her case claim that her story that quoted medical records violated privacy law and entailed “grave consequences including incitement to unlawful actions.”

Amnesty International has named Ms Barysevich and the doctor who shared medical files with her prisoners of conscience.

The fact that no criminal inquiry was launched into the protester’s death but prosecutors went after the reporter and the doctor shows the government’s “extreme cynicism,” according to Ms Zolatava, Ms Barysevich’s editor.

“Authorities are trying to sanitise the media landscape in Belarus and do everything they can to hide the truth about what’s going on in the country,” she said.

Two other journalists, Kaciaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova, were arrested last week and now face criminal charges over their online broadcast from the vigil for the killed protester which was brutally dispersed by the police.