The crackdown on media that covered the post-election protests on 19 December has been reinforced in the past few days. Members of the Committee for State Security (KGB) have searched the offices of three news media and an opposition party and the homes of two journalists, two human rights activists, two former presidential candidates and four of their advisers since 25 December.
Police and KBG officers seized computers, audio recorders, cameras and video cameras when they raided the offices of European Radio of Belarus (ERB) on 25 December. The same day, KGB officers broke into the premises that the Belsat TV station had rented to former presidential candidate Alexei Mikhalevich, who is currently detained. Anticipating the raid, Belsat had removed its equipment to another location, leaving a note for the KGB on an old computer saying “Especially for you.”
Twelve computers, hard disks and memory cards were seized when the weekly Nasha Niva was raided on 28 December. The KGB went on to search Nasha Niva editor Andrei Skurko’s apartment, taking his computer. Skurko said the KGB officers tried to locate a video sequence filmed during the 19 December protests in which an activist seized the KGB flag and replaced it with an opposition flag. The apartment of Natalia Radzina, the still-detained editor of the Charter 97 website, was also searched on 28 December.
Alegh Hulak, the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, described the raids as “the expression of governmental psychosis.” These raids and the earlier arrests of around 30 journalists suggest that President Alexander Lukashenko’s government is trying to shut down all channels of communication and suppress all forms of criticism.
At least 10 of the journalists arrested on 19 December are still detained, while Radzina and Iryna Khalip of Novaya Gazeta, along with the five detained opposition candidates, are still facing the possibility of jail sentences of between 3 and 15 years.
Reporters Without Borders condemns these systematic raids, which seem to be aimed at seizing all documents and files relating to the media’s coverage of the 19 December presidential election and the protests that followed the announcement that Lukashenko had been reelected.
The press freedom organization is alarmed by the intensity of the repression since the election and calls on the governments of the European Union, the Russian government and international institutions to respond firmly in order to prevent an even harsher crackdown on the media by Lukashenko.