BORIS GORETSKY / BELARUSIAN ASSOCIATION OF JOURNALISTS
The Belarusian government has almost destroyed the independent media in the country. About 30 journalists were sent to prison. The shut-down broadcasting organizations were forced to leave the country. The most promising thing is that readers are constantly following the newly established publications at an increasing rate…
Over the past year, the Belarusian authorities have destroyed almost all independent political and social media in Belarus, almost three dozen journalists were arrested, most of the publishers and news agencies had to leave the country to continue informing the public.
A year ago, the Belarusian Association of Journalists noted an unprecedented surge in repressions against journalists in their country. At the beginning, detentions, brutal beatings by the security forces, bullet wounds and random arrests seemed the worst that could happen to journalism in Belarus. But apparently the worse was yet to come.
In November last year, the authorities succeeded in suppressing Sunday protests, and then the security forces moved on to targeted repression and criminal prosecution of journalists. After the dispersal of one of the last street marches, hundreds of people were trapped in apartments and basements of residential buildings, where they hid during the dispersal. All night long, the security forces searched the “Ploshchad Peremen” district, where opposition activist Roman Bondarenko had been beaten to death three days before. All night long, people, including journalists, hid from the security forces in the basements of houses.
That day, several dozen journalists were detained on the Minsk streets, and authorities have opened criminal cases against Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova who have been later sentenced to two years of imprisonment for broadcasting the event on the Belsat TV channel. From that day on, the authorities began a total destruction of the free-media: more than 150 searches in editorial offi ces and buildings, dozens of criminal cases and arrests
of 28 journalists. Over the spring and summer, the authorities destroyed all major independent publications, and TUT.BY, the most popular Belarusian news portal, which was first blocked and then declared as extremist news portal.
14 employees of its editorial office, headed by the editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova, are under arrest since May. NEW LIFE After a summer campaign of repression, the most popular independent publications found the strength to re-establish their editions. Most of the major newsrooms moved to neighboring countries and resumed their work, despite the detention of their editors. The TUT.BY team launched the Zerkalo.io project and also Nasha Niva, European Radio for Belarus, Belsat TV channel, Kyky.org, Gazetaby.com editions restarted their work after blocking.
Obviously, editorial offices and journalists faced new challenges during relocation: deprivation of advertising revenue from their media, moving to new countries and settling in new places, restoring editorial processes. In addition, not all journalists were able to find opportunities for work. That is
why one of the main tasks of the Belarusian Association of Journalists is to help their colleagues. We also need the support and the help of our international colleagues during these difficult times. You can get in touch with us through firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the most positive thing in this story is that the Belarusian audience still supports their publications and is looking for truthful information. Popularity rates show a steady increase in the number of people returning to independent media sites after summer blockages. The Belarusian society continues to seek high-quality and free journalism. And that gives hope.