After a rigged December 2010 presidential vote, authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko unleashed two waves of repression against critics and political opponents, one in early year and one in summer. The KGB and police raided independent newsrooms and journalists' homes, confiscated reporting equipment, and jailed independent reporters. Politicized courts handed suspended prison terms to prominent journalists Irina Khalip and Andrzej Poczobut. Police used brutal force against reporters who covered nationwide anti-government protests. Critical news websites experienced multiple denial-of-service attacks and official blocking. The suspicious 2010 death of Aleh Byabenin, founder of the pro-opposition news website Charter 97, remained unexamined. With a domestic economy suffering, Lukashenko promised to free jailed critics if the European Union lifted travel and trade sanctions. During a year of relentless attacks on journalists, the Lukashenko administration reinforced its reputation as Europe's most repressive regime for the press.
In April, the general prosecutor's office ordered Internet service providers to block the pro-opposition news websites Charter 97 and Belarussky Partizan, according to local press reports. The government's censorship of online media secured Belarus a spot in CPJ's May report on the world's worst online oppressors.
Authorities arrested the editor hours after the election and indicted her on fabricated charges of organizing mass disorder. Thousands of Belarusians had protested the presidential vote, prompting Lukashenko to order the arrest of critical journalists, activists, and opposition candidates. Facing international outcry, the KGB released Radina in January. She later left the country.
A lopsided presidential vote:
79.65: Percentage of vote cast for Lukashenko, according to the official totals.
2.43: Percentage cast for Andrei Sannikov, the main opposition candidate. He was arrested after the vote and sentenced to five years in prison in May, the BBC reported.
1.78: Percentage cast for opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev. Police beat and arrested Neklyayev after the vote. In May, he was sentenced to a suspended two-year prison term, Al-Jazeera reported.
Balance: Split among other candidates, or cast for no candidate at all.
After her release from detention, authorities placed Khalip under strict house arrest, with two KGB agents stationed at her apartment around the clock. Khalip, a correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Sannikov, was eventually convicted of “organizing and preparing activities severely disruptive of public order” for her coverage of the post-election unrest.
Police targeted reporters and activists as they clamped down on anti-Lukashenko protests held weekly from late May to late July, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ.
Authorities raided newsrooms and seized equipment in an effort to silence critical coverage.
Andrei Bastunets, a lawyer for the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told CPJ the crackdown was the harshest attack on press freedom he had witnessed in his 14-year tenure.
Three major raids:
12: Computers confiscated by KGB agents in a raid on Minsk offices shared by the independent weekly Nasha Niva and the Belarusian PEN Center.
43: Pieces of reporting equipment, including computers, audio recorders, cameras, and camcorders confiscated by the KGB during a raid on the Minsk-based broadcaster European Radio for Belarus, according to the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
12: Computers seized by Minsk regional police in a raid on the independent weekly Borisovskiye Novosti.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.