Washington, D.C. — A Belarusian court has sentenced veteran RFE/RL correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich to 15 days in jail, finding him guilty of “participating” in a street protest — an event which Hruzdzilovich covered as a reporter on assignment. Hruzdzilovich’s arrest and detention are an escalation of an ongoing attack on press freedom in the country.
“First Belarusian authorities made it illegal for RFE/RL journalists to work by taking away their accreditations. When our dedicated journalists found ways to work anyway, authorities opted for even harsher tactics — harassment, threats, and arrests,” said RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar. “It is clear retaliation for their work covering the astonishing post-election events in Belarus and it is unacceptable.”
Hruzdzilovich, 61, was detained in his home on November 10, taken in for questioning, and presented with photos from the RFE/RL Belarus Service website dated October 25 as alleged proof of his activities. On November 12, he was found guilty by a Belarusian court for “participating” in protests, despite clear video evidence that he was in fact carrying out his journalistic duties.
Hruzdzilovich becomes the 17th independent journalist in Belarus currently carrying out a 15-day jail sentence for their work. Numerous Belarus Service journalists have been arrested, beaten, and jailed throughout the election season, including RFE/RL’s Anton Trafimovich, who suffered a broken nose after being seized by riot police.
In addition, RFE/RL social media consultant Ihar Losik remains in pre-trial confinement in Minsk. Losik, a prominent blogger who also previously worked with RFE/RL as part of the distinguished Vaclav Havel Journalism Fellowship, was arrested on June 25 and accused by authorities of using his popular Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order” ahead of the vote.
“In the 30 years that we have been reporting from Belarus, we have never seen this amount of pressure on our people. This is a coordinated attack on press freedom and a further attempt to keep us from reporting on the current reality in Belarus,” said RFE/RL Belarus Service Director Alexander Lukashuk.
Belarus has seen ongoing mass protests since the country’s August 9 election, which protesters say was rigged to hand Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term. Western governments have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have called on him to peacefully transfer power, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has published a report describing massive human rights abuses and attempts to suppress freedom of expression in Belarus.
Authorities have been sharply escalating their attacks against RFE/RL and other independent media. The accreditations of RFE/RL journalists in Belarus, along with those of all other reporters working for foreign mass media in the country, were canceled by government decree on October 2. This action followed a months-long campaign of harassment, violence, and censorship against RFE/RL in the country, including the ongoing blockage of the Belarus Service’s website svaboda.org since August 21.
About RFE/RL’s Belarus Service
Despite the government’s information blockade, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service continues to provide independent news and analysis of the fast-moving events to Belarusian audiences in their own language, relying on messengers, social media, and circumvention technology. The number of subscribers to the Belarus Service’s Telegram channel has tripled to nearly 100,000 since early August, the Service totaled more than 75 million Instagram and IGTV video views in August, September, and October, and video views on the Service’s YouTube channel in the three months together exceeded 43.7 million. The Service has also deployed mirror sites and an updated news app to circumvent pervasive disruption to internet blockages.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.
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Contact Martins Zvaners
Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, DC