May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. This is an occasion to reflect on the fundamental human rights and freedoms, to remind the authorities of the need to respect the freedom of the press, which comes from one of the basic, natural freedoms — freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, last year the situation in the media sphere has deteriorated significantly in Belarus.
It their World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders have lowered Belarus' rating and described it as "the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel".
In Belarus, the media faced with a record number of reprisals in in the last 12 months (the presidential campaign was started in May 2020) . We registered 516 detentions of journalists, at least 65 cases of violence by security forces, over 100 administrative arrests and dozens of searches in the offices and homes of journalists. Dozens of our colleagues have been forced to leave the country under threat of reprisals.
To date, 11 members of the media are behind bars:
Katsiaryna Andreyeva — 169 days in jail.
Daria Chultsova — 169 days in jail.
Katsiaryna Barysevich — 165 days in jail.
Yulia Slutskaya — 132 days in jail.
Ala Sharko — 132 days in jail.
Siarhei Alsheuski — 132 days in jail.
Piotr Slutski — 132 days in jail.
Ksenia Lutskina — 132 days in jail.
Andrei Aliaksandrau — 111 days in jail.
Dzianis Ivashyn — 52 days in jail.
Andrzej Paczobut — 39 days in jail.
All independent news media experience pressure on media outlets and journalists. Some are surviving in most unfavorable conditions where the very existence of independent media is questionable.
National newspaper Narodnaya Volya: since August 2020 it cannot be printed in Belarus, a printing house in Moscow refused to cooperate with them, too. The readers can still find this senior independent newspaper online.
Belarusian-language national weekly Novy Chas: since February 2021 the state monopoly chain "Belsayuzdruk" terminated the distribution agreement. Novy Chas is distributed by subscription and through the editorial office.
"Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus": in August 2020, the Belarusian printing house cancelled the contract, the newspaper is now printed in Russia. It is not included in the subscription catalog, and "Belsayuzdruk" kiosks don't sell it either. The newspaper is distributed in its office and via private distributors.
BelGazeta: the newspaper is not included in the subscription catalog, it was thrown out of the Belsayuzdruk distribution chain, and printing houses refuse to print it. The readers can read it online.
Svobodnye Novosti Plus: the newspaper is not included in the subscription catalog, it was thrown out of the Belsayuzdruk distribution chain, and printing houses refuse to print it. The readers can read it online.
Intex-press: in April 2021, this Baranavichy newspaper learned it would not be included in the subscription catalog for the second half of the year, and will not be sold through the kiosks. Private distributors refused to sell the newspaper. The editorial team are persecuted for an interview with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya: the article was recognized as extremist, and Intex-Press chief editor Uladzimir Yanukevich was fined. The case is not fully over yet.
Brestskaya Gazeta: since January 2021, the newspaper stopped its paper version. All printing presses refused to print the newspaper.
Hazeta Slonimskaya: in November 2020, the newspaper suspended publishing for six months. On November 9, without a warning, but with the prosecutor's warrant, the police searched the apartment of its publisher Hanna Valadashchuk and then to the newsroom. The police seized all laptops and other equipment, paralyzing the work of the team. Chief editor Hanna Valadashchuk was forced to go abroad. The reason for the debacle was a criminal case open for libel against one of the Slonim police officers in a local telegram channel.
Brest online magazine Binoculars: a criminal case against the husband of its independent publisher was initiated. There were searches in the office and the publisher's home. The work of a popular city magazine has been paralyzed.
Online publication Hrodna.life: the office was searched, equipment seized. The team and its chief editor received a huge fine for the alleged distribution of extremist materials.
TUT.BY portal was deprived of an "online media" status. Journalists of TUT.By were detained 38 times, five of them spendt short sentences in jail, while journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich is serving a criminal sentence.
BelaPAN news agency: Access to its Naviny.by online newspaper has been repeatedly blocked in Belarus, forcing the publication to constantly change its address. In January, the police searched the office, the equipment and documents have not been yet returned.
This is not a complete list of all the facts of pressure on the media. Every day we hear reports of more and more cases of fines, arrests, searches, etc.
Despite this unprecedented wave of pressure, society stands in solidarity with the independent media, and journalists remain committed to the profession of their choice. We trust and hope that we will survive in these difficult circumstances.
Once again, the Belarusian Association of Journalists expresses its solidarity with all the colleagues who are committed to defend the freedom of speech.
Journalism is not a crime!