Predators of Press Freedom: Belarus - Alexander Lukashenko
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||3 May 2011|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Predators of Press Freedom: Belarus - Alexander Lukashenko, 3 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dc2b53421.html [accessed 31 January 2015]|
Alexander Lukashenko, President, Belarus
Alexander Lukashenko's already-grim record since coming to power in 1994 worsened with harsh repression of protests after his "reelection" on 19 December 2010, when a score of journalists reporting on it were arrested and beaten by police. House searches, arrests and trials in Minsk and elsewhere have increased. Natalia Radzina, editor of the opposition website Charter97.org, was forced to flee abroad. Irina Khalip, correspondent of the independent Russian paper Novaya Gazeta, was released from prison in late January 2011 but kept under house arrest. Both journalists, along with all the losing election candidates and about 60 prominent activists, are being prosecuted for taking part in the demonstrations. At least two journalists – Yauhen Vaskovich and Andrei Pachobut – are still in prison. The regime has used an array of Kafka-esque tactics against Pachobut, who is correspondent of the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, including cancelling his accreditation and forbidding him from leaving the country, and he now faces a four-year jail sentence for "insulting" Lukashenko.
The surprising areas of freedom that have remained over the past 20 years have now been sharply reduced. The state monopoly of all printing and distribution networks allows for instant crackdown on journalists who try to rock the boat. Selective granting of accreditation forces many foreign media outlets and their local correspondents to work illegally, making them even more vulnerable. More than ever, the only option is to go underground, returning to Soviet-era "samizdats" (forbidden material copied and distributed clandestinely). The Internet does not make up for this, as cybercafé users and shared-line phone subscribers have since last year been identified and monitored, and website content subject to prior approval and monitoring by an "analysis centre" directly attached to the president's office. All this in a country bordering the European Union.