By: Lane Johansen
Last year, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry revoked the accreditation of all RFE/RL journalists. In November, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Andrey Kuznechyk – a Belarusian journalist who had worked as a freelancer for RFE/RL – was arbitrarily detained in Minsk. A month later, on December 23, Belarus’ Interior Ministry added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service (locally known as Radio Svoboda) to its list of extremist organizations.
The extremist label – the latest attack on RFE/RL and the free press in Belarus – means that any Belarusians who subscribe to Radio Svoboda online could face up to six years in prison. The move came almost three weeks after a Minsk court designated the RFE/RL Telegram channel and several social media accounts as extremist. The RFE/RL website has been blocked in Belarus since August 2020.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly responded that “Radio Liberty categorically rejects this ridiculous label… The Lukashenko regime continues to make it clear that its disregard for the truth and its efforts to restrict access to independent information have no limits.”
On December 23, almost a full month after Kuznechyk was detained, the journalist’s relatives told RFE/RL that Kuznechyk is facing unspecified criminal and will be transferred to another detention center in Minsk. Originally sentenced to 10 days in jail on November 26 on a controversial hooliganism charge, Kuznechyk was given another 10-day jail term on December 6 for hooliganism. He has yet to be released from this second jail term.
Currently, over 30 Belarusian journalists are currently in jail, either serving sentences or awaiting trial. Several of these journalists worked or freelanced for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service.