Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned of the “oppressive” climate surrounding media freedom in Belarus ahead of a presidential election in two weeks, condemning the “systematic” arrests of journalists covering pro-democracy demonstrations.
More than 40 journalists have been detained over the past 10 weeks in an effort to prevent them from covering the “unprecedented” campaigns against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s reelection, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on July 29.
The authorities are “ready to do anything to gag independent media,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.
Cavelier called for impartial investigations with the aim of prosecuting those guilty of obstructing the work of journalists, which is penalized by Belarus’s Criminal Code.
Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, is seeking a sixth term in the upcoming election on August 9.
The Belarusian leader has faced mounting public opposition in recent months, in part from public discontent over the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers, have been arrested as the government has cracked down hard on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates, who were not registered by the election officials.