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The dictator-president’s strongest card until recently was his regime’s stability but this has been wavering since a disputed presidential election in December 2011. Feeling his authority challenged by a growing wave of protests, Lukashenko has accused journalists of being trouble-makers in a series of irate speeches that have above all targeted Russian, Polish and other foreign media.
The surprising degree of freedom that some independent newspapers, especially regional ones such as Vitebsky Kurier and Babruisky Kurier, used to enjoy is now being cut back. Reporting food shortages orcovering the “silent protests” inspired by the Arab revolutions is now a major challenge in a country where the security forces and judicial system do exactly what the president tells them.
To keep the pressure on journalists, the authorities grant and withdraw accreditation as it suits them and are resorting to arbitrary arrests with increasing frequency. Not a week goes by without journalists being sentenced to several days in prison on charges such as “petty delinquency.” The trials are summary and sometimes the only evidence is false testimony by police officers.
Coverage’s of events that question “Batka” (Father) Lukashenko’s supremacy almost always lead to reprisals for journalists. The latest victims include Andrzej Poczobut, the correspondent of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, and Irina Khalip, the correspondent of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Natalia Radzina, the editor of the Charter97.org opposition website, had to flee the country to avoid a probable jail sentence.
Independent newspapers are the favourite targets of the authorities, who give them one warning after another. Under article 51 of the mass media law, the information ministry can ask a court to close a news media after it has received three warnings. The two leading national independent newspapers, Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva, narrowly escaped being closed in this way in July 2011.
Use of the Internet, especially independent news sites and social networks, to report developments and express views has grown enormously in just a few years. But the authorities have been trying to recover control of the situation since 2010 by resorting to drastic measures. As a result, Belarus was placed on the list of “countries under surveillance” in the 2011 Reporters Without Borders report on “Enemies of the Internet.”
Updated in july 2011
Belarus - 23 December 2013
Belarus - 14 November 2013
Belarus - 10 May 2013