Despite increasing pressure from the United States and Europe on Belarus – including four rounds of economic sanctions – the dictatorship today toppled another independent media outlet, BelaPan, and detained some of its members.
News agency editor-in-chief Irina Levshina and former director Dmitry Novozhilov were interrogated and imprisoned in Akrestina, a Minsk prison that was the scene of torture and beatings after the presidential election of August 2020.
Levshina and Novoshilov will initially be jailed for 72 hours, the period during which Belarusian law allows detention without charge.
Since the morning of this Wednesday (18), the BelaPan sites in English and Russian have ceased their broadcasts. Considered independent – and not oppositional – the agency had already been the target of magazines in January of this year.
The regime also arrested a company accountant, and family members of other journalists in the vehicle reported house searches and arrests.
According to the deputy editor, Alyaksandr Zaitsev, the site is the subject of a criminal investigation for “organizing actions seriously undermining public order”.
Zaitsev was not arrested, but had to sign an undertaking to report to the police station. His home was searched by seven officers for about an hour and his cell phone, computer and tablet were confiscated.
Dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s attacks on journalists and the media began shortly after the presidential election.
Local reporters and international correspondents were beaten by their shock troops while covering protests against the election results, while being identified and accredited.
At least 62 cases of physical violence against journalists have been recorded by the Belarusian Journalists Association, which is also persecuted by the dictatorship.
In the first weeks, the Belarusian regime closed more than 70 news sites and strangled independent local newspapers, preventing them from printing and circulation.
During the past year 480 journalists have been arrested and there have been 97 cases of administrative arrests. In total, media professionals have spent more than 1,200 days behind bars.
In February, two reporters were sentenced to two years in prison for filming protests against Lukashenko. In March, a reporter for Belarus’ leading independent media outlet, Tut.by, also took two years for an article that denied a police report into the death of a protester.
The site was declared an extremist by the regime in May and blocked, although its reporting still includes official versions and views of the regime.
Tut.by journalists are 12 of 33 media professionals currently imprisoned in the country, according to the Belarusian Journalists Association, which is also being persecuted by Lukashenko.
The most recent crackdown on news companies began last month, with more than 70 searches of newsrooms and the homes of journalists in national and regional vehicles.
The Nasha Niva website, one of the oldest in the country, was also blocked.
Despite the harassment, reporters at Tut.by started editing a new website, Zerkalo, and launched the “God Posle” project (“one year later”, in Russian), on the crackdown continued since August 2020.
On Wednesday, the page posted photos of 582 of the 630 political prisoners identified to date in Belarus and the names of 48 others whose images have not been found.
“There are simply not enough journalists in our country to follow each of these people. But it is also impossible to be silent. This is why we publish the portraits of political prisoners, in an incredibly sad document of the time. (…) It is quite possible that, on the day of publication of this material, there are more political prisoners in Belarus, ”says Zerkalo’s text, which was also declared an extremist.
The Ministry of Justice has filed a complaint to liquidate the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The first session took place last Wednesday (11).