The journalism watchdog group Reporters Without Borders on August 24 condemned the increasing persecution of independent journalists in Belarus, citing the ongoing trials of five journalists.
The group said that Stanislau Ivashkevich, Ales Silich, Maria Artsybashava, Katsyaryna Andreyeva, and Syarhey Kavalyou -- correspondents for Belsat TV, a Belarusian satellite TV channel that was forced to flee to neighboring Poland -- have all been charged with working for foreign media without press accreditation and “illegal production...of media content.”
The group said Belsat TV’s reporters have been the leading victims of persecution, having been targeted by at least 26 prosecutions for working without press accreditation and accumulating more than 10,000 euros in fines so far this year.
“We condemn this new wave of trials, which has the sole aim of intimidating journalists and forcing them to submit to government pressure,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We urge the Belarusian government to end the systematic judicial harassment of independent journalists.”
The group said Minsk has forced journalists into a vicious cycle. By banning media based abroad, like Belsat, from opening a bureau in Minsk, the authorities forced its correspondents to work without accreditation. This, in turn, is used as grounds for prosecutions and fines.
Journalist Kastus Zhukouski has been fined the most often -- 17 times for more than 5,000 euros in the past three years -- and is now facing the possibility of having his assets confiscated because he is unable to pay, the group said.
Around 100 independent journalists and bloggers were arrested while covering nationwide antigovernment protests in March. RSF said authorities fear more protests will break out after the summer break and they likely are trying to prevent independent media from covering the protests.
Belarus ranks 153rd out of 180 countries in the watchdog's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.