Journalists and media freedom under attack in Lukashenko’s Belarus

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”115442″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Harassment, round-ups, arrests and imprisonment have become routine for journalists working in Belarus in the nearly three months since the presidential elections on 9 August. Add to that a lack of internet access and it becomes clear that those covering the protests in the country since Alexander Lukashenko won a widely contested fifth term as president have been working in incredibly difficult conditions.

According to data from the Belarusian Association of Journalists, from 9 August to 1 November, Belarusian and foreign journalists were arrested more than 310 times just for doing their job. Of these, in more than 150 cases they spent three or more hours in police stations. In 60 cases, journalists reported that they were subject to violence in the process of their work, during and after detention, including some cases of torture.

Despite the fact that under Belarusian law journalists have a number of rights, they are not being protected from abuse, but are subject to purposeful actions by the police and special forces. When arrested, most journalists were wearing press vests,had badges and press cards.

There are no investigations into the arbitrary detention of journalists. There is not a single criminal case initiated over journalists` complaints about the violent actions of the police.  Examinations of the facts in these cases by he Investigative Committee – the unified system of state law enforcement agencies are being unduly prolonged again and again without any sufficient grounds.

Thus, impunity for harassment of journalists has become normal for post-election Belarus. What is more, their professional activities relating to the coverage of protest rallies have become grounds for judicial prosecution. From the day of election to 1 November, about 60 journalists covering election-related protests were charged with alleged participation in an unsanctioned demonstration under Article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Offences. Approximately a half of them were sentenced to jail terms from three to fifteen days and the others were fined.

Foreign journalists have also been subject to special sanctions. At least 50 foreign journalists were banned from entering Belarus after the election. According to an official statement from the State Border Committee on 18 August, , 17 foreign media workers were denied entry in Belarus “due to the lack of accreditation to carry out journalistic activities in the territory of our country.” Journalists from at least 19 foreign media outlets have been deprived of their accreditations. All who were foreign nationals have been deported from Belarus. On 2 October, the Foreign Ministry revoked all the previously issued accreditations for foreign journalists due to the adoption of a new regulation for accreditation. Thus, all of them were outlawed until they had obtained new accreditation.

On 1 November, a protest march took place from Minsk to Kurapaty, where victims of Stalin’s repressions were executed and buried. On this one day, seven journalists working there were arrested, two of them were beaten up, and four were left in jail pending trial.

Media outlets are being targeted too with access to independent sources of information deliberately restricted by the government. In late August, the Ministry of Information ruled to block more than 70 news websites and websites of civil society organisations. After the election, state-owned printing houses refused to print some influential independent newspapers – Narodnaya Volya, Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus, Svobodnye Novosti Plus, and Belgazeta  – on flimsy or no grounds at all. . When two of the newspapers printed their issues abroad, the state post service Belposhta and monopolist newsstand chain Belsayuzdruk made it impossible for them to distribute them.

Despite this, the media continue to do their job: blocked websites disseminate information through “mirrors”, Telegram channels and social networks; print newspapers are distributed by volunteers; journalists support each other.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”172″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“Who is going to try to seize power?” Caroline Eden talks to Index from Kyrgyzstan



Kyrgyzstan has been plunged into chaos this week after parliamentary election results on Monday led to wide-scale protests throughout the country, which have seen the prime minister resign as a result.

Protests began as soon as the results were announced and quickly became violent, with protesters storming the parliament building and setting parts of it on fire. “By 9 o’clock there were the sounds of explosions and grenades,” said journalist and writer Caroline Eden in our interview with her, who has been watching the protests unfold from the capital city Bishkek.

One group managed to break into prison and release former president President Atambayev from jail, where he was serving a sentence for corruption. Hundreds have been injured in the protests and one person has died.

Many in the country felt the elections were irrelevant even before they took place, and some had called for them to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic. Despite this, the elections went ahead but arguments between the current and former leaders of the governing Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan meant that the party did not take part, with many smaller splinter groups taking its  place.

In the event, just four parties on the ballot managed to get a big enough share of the vote to win some of the 120 seats in parliament that were up for grabs. The party that won the smallest number of seats – just 13 – was the only one of the four that were in opposition to the incumbents.

The Central Electoral Commission annulled the result a day later.

Listen to Eden’s interview in full  about the atmosphere on the ground and what it all means for freedoms in the country.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”581″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ruth Smeeth: “In Belarus, Lukashenko has used every tool available to a totalitarian leader”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”114568″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]My Twitter feed this week, probably like yours, has been filled with terrifying, outrageous but also at points inspirational images from Belarus. The sham of an election that saw Alexander Lukashenko ‘re-elected’ with 80% of the vote has been dismissed and disputed by election observers, the European Union and the US State Department.

Lukashenko has used every tool available to a totalitarian leader. His opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has had to flee the country to protect her family. The military have been deployed against protestors, with public beatings a seemingly normal occurrence.  The KGB has been raiding homes overnight arresting anyone considered a threat to the regime. Dozens of journalists have been apprehended. Over 6,700 people have been detained with reports now emerging of torture taking place in the prisons and during interrogations.  This is happening on European soil in the year 2020, less than 1,400 miles from London – we cannot ignore it. We must not.

As ever the repressive tools of the dictator rarely silence the population, who seem determined to stand up against Lukashenko and his allies, in numbers not seen in Belarus since the fall of communism.

Yesterday, women wearing white and carrying flowers marched on Minsk and formed solidarity chains in numerous other areas – the protest was clear “Flowers are better than Bullets”.  Impromptu strike action has followed at the state owned BelAZ truck factory, with chants that they all voted for Tikhanovskaya not Lukashenko, with other factories seemingly following suit. The protest that touched me most was the protest from the Belarusian State Philharmonic who stood in front of their building with placards stating: “My voice was stolen” as they sang together.

Each of these acts of protest have demonstrated extraordinary feats of personal courage and bravery from a population that is tired and is demanding their basic entitlement of a democratic government that respects the rule of law. Their individual and collective actions are inspirational and it is up to all of us to make sure that they know that they aren’t alone.

Index was established to provide a voice to Soviet dissidents in the 1970s, many of whom were from Belarus.  Our commitment to them remains as strong today as it was in 1971.  We stand with the people of Belarus against tyranny and repression and we will do all we can to make sure that the world keeps paying attention to their plight.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title=”You might also like to read” category_id=”13527″][/vc_column][/vc_row]