Journalists in Belarus fined as the regime silences independent voices
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) recently reported on the financial harassment of independent journalists in Belarus. According to RSF, Belarusian journalists have received at least 50 fines since January 2018. The majority of those affected are journalists with Belsat TV, which operates out of Poland and is known for its criticism of the regime. In most of the cases, the journalists were accused of "working for a foreign media without accreditation". Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, stated that:
"The exponential rise in the number of fines imposed since the start of the year is indicative of a targeted campaign to silence Belsat TV's reporters".
While journalists face numerous legal challenges, the House of Representatives voted in the first reading on amendments to the Law on Media. The new regulations relate to other legislation, such as the Tax Code, the Administrative Offense Code and the Code of Execution Procedure for Administrative Offences. However, the changes could have repercussions on freedom of expression and the press. According to RSF, while independent media in Belarus already face bureaucratic restrictions that the government uses to silence opponents, the amended law would only serve to restrict a larger number of media outlets, especially those operating online portals.
RSF has expressed concern over the fact that the amendments were adopted in the first reading and without any previous consultation or public debate with civil society and independent media representatives. Bihr said:
“Far from eliminating undue obstacles to media activity, they increase the repressive provisions, especially as regards the Internet. We call on the authorities to amend this bill by taking account of the media’s recommendations”.
In an ongoing crackdown on media and civil societyi in Belarus, Ukrainian journalist Pavlo Sharoiko was sentenced to eight years on espionage charges. https://t.co/opO45m0Sgx pic.twitter.com/tCNSpSt2b6— Kyiv Post (@KyivPost) May 24, 2018
On 23rd May, a Belarusian court sentenced Ukrainian journalist Pavlo Sharoiko to eight years in prison on charges of espionage. Arrested in November 2017, Sharoiko's trial was conducted behind closed doors. Sharoiko worked with the Ukrainian Radio based in Belarus.
In a separate incident, Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist Dzmitry Halko was arrested in April 2018 during a border crossing. The authorities have accused him of "violence against police" in connection with an incident that allegedly occurred when police showed up at Halko's flat, where information related to the independent publication Belarusian Partisan was contained on servers there. Such charges could carry a six-year prison sentence.
'Halko’s problems began after he transformed Belarusian Partisan into the most opposed to the regime and most pro-Ukrainian Belarusian publication'— PEN International (@pen_int) April 30, 2018
Ukrainian-Belarusian journalist Dzmitry Halko faces up to six years in prison:https://t.co/6IgXLHtbt2
In April 2018, Viasna Human Rights Centre reported that the Belarusian authorities had refused to register the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (BCD). In March 2018, the BCD announced that the Ministry of Justice had suspended the party's registration process. According to a press release, which gives additional details, BCD has claimed that "the Belarusian authorities have started the campaign of intimidation of the BCD founders. The officials have intimidated Christian Democrats in order to make them to revoke their signatures from the party founders list. Pressure is also being exercised on the persons who participated in the local elections 2018 on behalf of BCD".
At the end of April 2018, more than a dozen Belarusian women participated in a 10-day hunger strike to draw attention to the issues with the legal framework around drug use in the country. During the strike, the women called for the release of relatives and others who were in prison on drug-related charges. The group called themselves 'Mothers 328' after Article 328 of the Belarusian Criminal Code that dictates the country's drug laws, which the group considers too restrictive.