Washington, D.C. — Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) strongly condemns today’s arrest in Belarus of two RFE/RL correspondents as well as the raiding of its bureau in the Belarus capital, Minsk. This latest assault on independent media in Belarus occurred as the country approaches the one-year anniversary of the August 9 rigged election to reinstall leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a sixth term as president.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “These raids and arrests testify to the despotic desperation of the Lukashenka regime to cling to power at all costs. For decades, RFE/RL’s Radio Svaboda has been a source of news and inspiration to the people of Belarus. Lukashenka’s criminalization of independent journalism is a cynical attempt to exert absolute control over what the Belarusian people see and hear. We call on the regime to release our journalists immediately and return our property. These intimidation tactics will not silence our journalism.”
Witnesses said Belarus security officers broke through the door at RFE/RL’s Minsk bureau today as part of a sweep targeting the media. Security officers also searched the homes of RFE/RL correspondents Aleh Hruzdzilovich and Valyantsin Zhdanko, and detained Hruzdzilovich and former RFE/RL correspondent Ina Studzinskaya.
Hruzdzilovich’s wife told RFE/RL that her husband was taken away in handcuffs. “His and my phones, all computers, and laptops were taken away. There were nine people. They also took all the money, even Belarusian rubles from my pocket. Also, $300 that remained for me to live on,” she added.
The searches came two days after authorities carried out sweeping raids against human rights groups and the media, including the Viasna human rights center and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. At least a dozen people were detained in the July 14 raids targeting at least 19 nongovernmental organizations in Minsk and other cities.
Today’s detentions and raids mark a steep escalation in the Belarus government’s attacks on RFE/RL operations in Belarus. The closed-door trial of RFE/RL consultant and prominent blogger Ihar Losik continues, and numerous other RFE/RL journalists have been harassed, detained, jailed, and stripped of their accreditations. Since June 25, 2020, when Losik was detained and accused by authorities of using his popular Telegram channel to “prepare to disrupt public order,” RFE/RL-journalists have spent a collective 580 days in prison. Svaboda’s website has been blocked within Belarus since August 21, 2020. The accreditations of all locally-based journalists working in foreign media, including RFE/RL, were annulled by Belarusian authorities in October 2020.
The Lukashenka regime has carried out an increasingly ruthless crackdown on the opposition, media, and civil society in Belarus over the past year, in response to massive demonstrations following the August 9 vote. Lukashenka’s main challenger in the election, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya will visit Washington next week (July 18-23) for meetings at the White House, U.S. State Department, and the U.S. Congress.
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