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‘Belarusian journalists are safe and vulnerable’ | Freedom of the Press


On Sunday, Belarusian authorities detained journalist Roman Protasevich and his friend Sofia Sapega after President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a flight to Minsk.

Until November last year, Protasevich oversaw the Telegram channel, Nexta, which played a key role in organizing anti-election protests last August that gave Lukashenko the victory.

With over two million followers, the process became a tool to help connect with the old rulers.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Protasevich’s arrest is part of a larger crackdown on independent journalists in Belarus.

Belarus authorities say they have closed 50 independent websites and arrested 477 journalists by 2020.

Al Jazeera spoke with Volha Siakhovich, a Belarusian legal expert from the Belarusian Association of Journalists about Protasevich’s era and media freedom.

Al Jazeera: Belarus authorities released a video in which Protasevich said he was in good health and that the police treated him according to the law. What did you do with the video?

Siakhovich: We can see that he is alive, but anyone who has been released from prison in Belarus has confirmed that there is no humanity in that prison.

I have heard reporters report being locked up in cold rooms without access to hygiene, medical care and toilets. Political prisoners are often kept in cool places, and prison guards make sure they stay awake because loud music is blaring and a bright light shines through the cells.

Some accounts relate to the number of people up to 10 people in a small air-conditioned room.

Al Jazeera: What are you afraid of Protasevich?

Siakhovich: He is currently charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct and one count of conspiracy to commit atrocities. As a result, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

But Belarusian courts are not open to the public and many cases can come at any time. Belarus is the last European country to face the death penalty. This did not happen [the question] for Protasevich panobe. Courts can make anything and everything in a black way.

Al Jazeera: It appears that Lukashenko diverted planes to build Protasevich. Why is the 26-year-old considered a threat to Belarus?

Siakhovich: I don’t see it in Lukashenko’s head, so I can’t tell you why he decided to break the international law to arrest a journalist. However, it seems that Protasevich is known as a key enemy of the government in its blogging campaign and its aftermath.

In the wake of the demonstrations and the internet shutdown that Lukashenko did, Nexta’s approach played a key role in organizing the demonstrations, helping them pass control.

Protasevich remains in custody for security reasons after authorities say he is involved in a documentary, Lukashenko, Criminal Materials, published on Nexta Video on YouTube.

In November 2020, the Minsk office of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus denounced Protasevich, in connection with the August 9, 2020 presidential election. Terrorism.

Al Jazeera: No upcoming elections or major demonstrations have been planned. Why now?

Siakhovich: The operation must have been planned by Belarusian secretaries for a long time. Apparently it doesn’t look good for reasons he did one day at the European Conference in Brussels. The experience shows that Protasevich’s career was dangerous for Lukashenko, meaning he was doing an important job.

Al Jazeera: What are your main concerns regarding the protection of the press in Belarus right now?

Siakhovich: Of particular concern are the conditions in prison that I have mentioned earlier, as they put human health at risk.

This should be paramount and be of interest to other countries.

Foreign journalists and human rights groups can help raise awareness of torture and security in Belarusian prisons.

Al Jazeera: How are journalists in Belarus today?

Siakhovich: From the way Belarussian authorities deal with independent journalists, we can assume that journalists have an important role to play in front of them. Their time to initiate long-term change in Belarus has come.

The issue the officials are alleging is that the media is making a lot of anti-government statements as part of a major Western conspiracy.

When journalists get into the hands of government officials, the government is free to do whatever it wants. Authorities often violate the law, harass, swindle, and prosecute journalists for crimes they did not commit.

One of the most obvious is that Belarussian journalists are insecure and persecuted.

As we speak,’s independent media offices are overseen by police vehicles and many of their co-workers have been charged with various offenses.

Protasevich is just one of 34 Belarusian journalists currently in prison.


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