Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists until Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Belarus continues its persecution of independent media outlets and their reporters.
Belarus’ media have never been more repressed by the authorities than since the controversial reelection of Alexander Lukashenko as head of state in August 2020. The most popular news website, Tut.by, had its media status withdrawn and was blocked, raided and searched. It was also subjected to criminal proceedings, before being labelled as “extremist” and de facto banned. Most independent media outlets have suffered similar fates. Some continue to publish from abroad. Only the state broadcaster BTRC continues to operate normally, pumping out the regime’s propaganda.
To silence independent journalists, the authorities have used censorship, violence and mass arrests, they have conducted coordinated raids on homes and media offices, and they disbanded the Association of Belarusian Journalists (BAJ). They even resorted to state terrorism in May 2021, hijacking a passenger jet in order to arrest opposition journalist Raman Pratasevich and force him to make a “confession” on state TV.
The Belarusian authorities have developed laws to provide a legal veneer to their attacks on press freedom, including by means of a series of amendments in May 2021. The justice system has also begun equating independent journalism with “extremism”, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Around 20 media outlets have been branded as “extremist” since August 2021.
The vast majority of Belarusian independent media outlets are now either operating from outside the county or have been forced to cease publishing. They are now mainly financed by external grants. Before 2020, they also benefited from advertising revenue.
Belarus is the world’s fourth largest jailer of journalists, many of whom are women. They include Daria Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreyeva, who were sentenced to two years in prison for live streaming an unauthorised demonstration. The readiness to jail women is new and marks the end of a traditional patriarchal forbearance towards women on the part of the authorities, who were surprised by their prominent role in the post-election protests.
Many journalists have been forced to flee the country, which was the most dangerous in Europe for journalists until the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, and the wave of systematic repression in Russia. The Belarusian authorities systematically target journalists, who can be arrested, searched, sometimes assaulted and mistreated in prison.