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The problems are growing every day in Belarus, which is under the pressure of totalitarian rule. It has been 2.5 years since the suppression of mass protests that began over the rigging of the election results in 2020. The government reacts to the current revolution of the people in a ruthless, planned and systematic way. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians left their country. The opposition media was expelled from the country. Civil society was disbanded. But there are many signs in this depressing picture that give hope for the future:
Harsh reaction to the events of 2020
In 2022, the Belarusian Union of Journalists (BAJ) reported that 43 journalists were arrested and there were search warrants against 55 journalists. Journalists have been imprisoned 20 times due to administrative arrest. They were fined. In addition, law enforcement agencies questioned journalists and also questioned their relatives.. Searches were conducted at the homes of journalists, including those who had left Belarus. Even those who have left the country are being followed by intelligence units. More than 1500 attacks (arrests, detentions, fines, physical violence, etc.) against journalists in Belarus in 2020 were recorded. in 2021, more than a thousand attacks took place. In other words, a significant number of those who are active in the journalism profession have left the country and the number is rising day by day. Because it has become almost impossible for independent media to do journalism due to high fines.
Some of the 32 imprisoned media representatives have already completed their sentences and have been released. Some of those who have been previously convicted are given additional sentences. Belsat TV channel correspondent Katerina Andreyeva (Bahvalova) and her colleague Darya Chultsova broadcast live where people gathered at the ‘Exchange Square’ in Minsk on November 15, 2020 in memory of the murdered Roman Bondarenko were dispersed by police violence. Andreyeva and Chultsova were arrested for this reason and sentenced to two years in prison. Darya left Belarus as soon as she was released. However, Katerina Andreyeva was sentenced to another eight years in prison on charges of treason against the state. The details of the accusations are not known because the trial was decided on confidentiality. This is just one example in terms of showing the state of the media, journalism and the law in Belarus.
In Belarus, the media, which is almost outside the control of the state, is considered extremist. There is a criminal responsibility for subscribing to a Telegram channel, sending photos or any messages to the editorial office. Darya Losik, the wife of political prisoner Igor Losik, was sentenced to two years in prison for an interview she gave to the Belsat TV channel. Relatives took Darya and Igor Losik’s little daughter. Otherwise, she could have been sent to an orphanage. Similarly, expert Yegor Lebedok, who commented to private media outlets about events connected with Russia’s war against Ukraine, was sentenced to 5 years in prison. These are just a few examples.
Fear is the main goal of powers. To ensure this, many people are detained every day in Belarus. Likes made to opposition posts directed against the government, anti-war statements, or any other reason on social media.. It doesn’t matter what the reason is anymore!
Anonymous authors and anonymous sources have become common.
But there are also positive things in this gloomy picture. The commitment of Belarusian journalists to the ideal of profession, international solidarity and support within the country. Most of the editorial offices left Belarus in the second half of 2021 and are continuing their work. We are grateful to them. Thanks to them, we learn about what is happening in the country. Those who work in exile, despite the fact that it is dangerous, access information sources in the country. Some of them have their own correspondents in the country. But no one is revealing the identity of these people.
The journalism profession is even more important now
Russia has been at war in Ukraine for a year. Aleksandr Lukashenko allowed Vladimir Putin to use the territory and infrastructure of Belarus for the invasion. The war in Ukraine and the attitude of Russian and Belarusian society towards these events have shown how important mass media are in influencing people’s consciousness.
I believe that the free media outside the Belarusian state media is doing great things in meeting the information needs of those living in the country. In 2020, the Belarusian people showed that they stand for values such as freedom and anti-war stances and the protection of their rights. In 2021 and after, Belarusian society did not support the war. Sociological research, surveys, migrations from Belarus and partisan resistance show this.
32 media workers are still under arrest. These are the victims of freedom of expression. And free journalists should continue to work so that these sacrifices do not go in vain.
Volha Khvoin – Journalist
She worked as an editor, project manager at the Belarusian Association of Journalists. She currently works for Polish Radio. Member of the Board of Directors of BAJ.