Washington, D.C. — Earlier today, a Belarusian court designated the Telegram and YouTube channels of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Belarus Service as “extremist” in the latest attempt to quash independent information sources and prevent RFE/RL from engaging with its audiences in Belarus.
In response to the court finding, RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “RFE/RL adamantly rejects this ridiculous label. We are committed to continuing to provide objective news and information to the Belarusian people, who are in need of independent media more now than ever. The Lukashenka regime continues to make clear that their disregard for the truth and their efforts to restrict access to independent information know no bounds,” he added.
Authorities in Belarus have declared over 300 Telegram channels, blogs, and chatrooms “extremist”—from local chats to channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers—making anyone who publishes or reposts “extremist” materials liable for up to seven years in prison. According to RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, seven of the 10 most-popular Belarusian telegram channels have been declared “extremist.”
The designation follows the arrest of Belarus Service journalist Andrey Kuznechyk on November 25, and the blockage of access to the website of the 24/7 Current Time digital network on October 29.
RFE/RL journalists in Belarus have spent a cumulative 667 days behind bars since social media consultant Ihar Losik was arrested in June 2020; a verdict is expected on December 14 in Losik’s the months-long, closed -door trial. Numerous other RFE/RL journalists on assignment to report on the election and its aftermath have been harassed, detained, jailed, and stripped of their accreditations. In October 2020, the Lukashenka regime blocked the service’s website, and on July 16, Belarusian security officers broke through the doors of RFE/RL’s bureau in Minsk to raid and seal the office.
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