The five journalists are Stanislau Ivashkevich, Ales Silich, Maryya Artsybashava, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Syarhey Kavalyou.
All are correspondents for Belsat TV, a Belarusian satellite TV channel that was forced to base itself in neighbouring Poland, and all are charged under article 22.9 of the Code of Administrative Offences with “illegal production and/or distribution of media content.”
Belsat TV’s reporters are the leading victims of these prosecutions. Since May, they have been the targets of at least 26 other prosecutions for working without press accreditation, and have accumulated more than 10,000 euros in fines since the start of the year.
“We condemn this new wave of trials, which has the sole aim of intimidating journalists and forcing them to submit to government pressure,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the Belarusian government to end the systematic judicial harassment of independent journalists.”
There is a vicious circle. By banning media based abroad, such as Belsat TV, from opening a bureau in Minsk, the authorities force its correspondents to work without accreditation. This, in turn, is used as grounds for prosecutions and the imposition of fines.
The fine recorder holder is Kastus Zhukouski, a journalist who has been fined 17 times – more than 5,000 euros in all – in the past three years and is now facing the possibility of having his assets confiscated because he is unable to pay.
“Whereas before the authorities used to target reporters in the regions, especially in Homyel, they have now started persecuting Belsat TV journalists in Minsk,” the TV channel’s representative in Belarus, Alyaksey Minchonak, told RSF.
Harassment of independent journalists and bloggers has stepped up in recent months. Around 100 were arrested while covering nationwide anti-government protests in March. The authorities fear more protests after the summer break and are trying to prevent them from being covered by independent media.
“Officials probably think that if reporters have to pay a fine, they will be less willing to work in the future,” Minchonak added. “They also see it as an opportunity to fill the coffers.”
Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.