Belarusian government blocks top media and arrests reporters

The Belarusian authorities have blocked the website of a leading online media company and arrested several of its journalists

Kiev, Ukraine – The Belarusian authorities blocked the website of a leading online media company on Thursday and arrested several of its journalists.

The Belarusian Information Ministry said it blocked Nasha Niva’s website after the Prosecutor General’s Office accused it of posting unspecified illegal information.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said the authorities raided Nasha Niva’s offices, arrested her editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich and editor Andrey Skurko and searched their homes. Another four Nasha Niva journalists could not be reached, said the BAJ.

Nasha Niva journalist Аrtsem Harbatsevich compared the raid to the authorities’ earlier actions against another leading independent news outlet, Tut.by, whose website was also blocked in May and journalists arrested.

“It is a crackdown on the editorial staff in the worst tradition of the Soviet era,” Harbatsevich told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Minsk.

Founded in 1906, Nasha Niva is the oldest and most influential Belarusian media company. Its online audience exceeds 100,000.

Both Nasha Niva and Tut.by reported in detail on months of protests against the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, which were triggered by his re-election for a sixth term in a vote in August 2020 that was widely regarded as manipulated.

Authorities responded to demonstrations with massive raids in which more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by police. Opposition leaders were either detained or forced to leave the country.

The European Union and the United States responded to the crackdown by imposing sanctions on Belarus. They imposed new, tighter restrictions after Belarus diverted a passenger jet on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist.

Tut.by’s website has been on hold since May and 12 of its journalists have remained in jail pending trial.

According to the Belarusian Union of Journalists, there are currently 27 Belarusian journalists in custody who are either serving their sentences or awaiting trial.

“The crackdown on independent media in Belarus continues,” said association chief Andrei Bastunets. “The authorities have decided that they can withhold information from millions of citizens. The authorities see journalists and independent information as their main enemies. “


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