Authorities in Belarus have received international criticism for their violent crackdown on journalists following the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Many believe the election results were falsified in order to secure the president’s victory, including the opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Following the August 9 presidential election in Belarus, journalists reported on widespread protests that broke out in opposition to what they claimed was the fraudulent re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko. Chief among the protesters’ demands is that the president resign from his 26-year rule. In an effort to quell the unrest, officials in Belarus have blocked more than 50 news media websites originating from a variety of sources and language backgrounds.
The blockade came soon after Belarus state-run publishing house Vysheysha Shkola halted the printing of prominent independent newspapers Narodnaya Volya and Komsomolskaya Pravda, citing malfunctioning press equipment. This was the third time the newspapers faced disruption of their press since the election in early August. Narodnaya Volya is printed in Belarusian, an East Slavic language, as well as Russian — which is also an official language of Belarus. Komsomolskaya Pravda is a Russian-language paper.
Responding to the crackdown, the Belarusian Association of Journalists — which include sites for US-funded Radio Liberty, Polish-funded satellite TV channel Belsat, and Minsk-based EuroRadio — have expressed concern about the government’s attempts to control the narrative through suppressing journalism.
“The Belarusian Association of Journalists links the blocking of internet resources and the disruption of print publications with the government’s attempt to block information about post-election protests in the country,” the journalists’ association said in a statement. “We consider such actions indirect censorship and obstruction of the legitimate activities of media in Belarus. These actions not only violate the rights of journalists and the media, but also restrict the constitutional right of citizens to receive complete, reliable and timely information.”
Along with press blockades, Belarus authorities have also beaten, detained, and denied entry to dozens of reporters, according to the association. The crackdown has drawn international criticism, with the International Press Institute and many other press watchdogs, including PEN America, the European Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and the UN-run Internews, which all penned an open letter demanding protection for reporters.
President Lukashenko won the election with 80% of the votes, though critics in Belarus and abroad, including the opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, claim the results were falsified. Tsikhanouskaya has expressed support for the protests, which sent around 200,000 demonstrators to the capital last weekend. “We are closer than ever to our dream,” Tikhanovskaya said in a video message from Lithuania, where she took refuge after the election.
The protests in Belarus are happening at a time when unrest against government corruption is global, including against the most recent federal police crackdowns in Portland.