Attacks on the Press
The authoritarian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko made a few concessions this year while trying to improve relations with the U.S. and the European Union. Authorities reversed their repressive stance in several high-profile cases, including dropping criminal defamation charges against one journalist and allowing Irina Khalip, a reporter serving a suspended jail term, to travel outside Belarus. The KGB also announced that it would not file charges against a journalist who was accused of complicity in an illegal border crossing in what became known as the "teddy bear case." Critics of the government warned the EU that Lukashenko was not implementing liberal reforms but merely trading "hostages" in exchange for the EU's easing of political and economic sanctions. Reports by a local press freedom group, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, supported the accusations: Authorities continued to harass Khalip, detained independent journalists, and denied accreditation to critical broadcasters and several local journalists. A court declared that a press photo album contained extremist materials and ordered it destroyed. Lukashenko instructed KGB's digital arm, the Operative Analytical Center, to intensify its control over the Web, saying that the media and social networks had the capacity to destabilize the country.