Blue Vests Became Targets. Belarusian Authorities Waged Full-Scale War Against Independent Press

The authorities have waged a full-scale war against the independent press in Belarus. It is very dangerous to be a journalist in Belarus today. When journalists go out to cover protests, one cannot be sure they will come back home. My colleagues always have a change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste in their backpacks if they go out “on the streets”. At the moment, 16 Belarusian journalists are behind bars, two of them are TUT.BY journalists. Two more recently served 15 days of administrative arrest. In total, Belarusian journalists have been detained 363 times since 9 August

It is noteworthy that the repression began not after the elections, but several months before them. Our journalists were detained back in May. They were taken to police stations on the pretext of document verification, and released a few hours later.

TUT.BY CEO Ludmila Chekina [left] and TUT.BY editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova [middle] in front of the Interior Ministry building on September 3, 2020

By September, journalists were sentenced to X days of imprisonment. They were accused of allegedly participating in protests, although they were wearing Press vests and badges. They were imprisoned for X days, despite numerous eyewitness accounts, and video footages clearly showing that the journalists didn’t participate in the rallies but were covering them.

Judges make decisions based on the testimony of witnesses – law enforcement officers who testify in courts via video link, wearing masks and with altered personal data. They give confused testimony, they cannot name the exact places of detention of journalists, they cannot accurately describe their looks during detention, but the court trusts them, and not other witnesses!

Some journalists were beaten during their arrest. We appealed to the Investigative Committee with a demand to open a criminal case on the facts of beatings and impediment to the work of journalists, yet investigation into the incidents was denied.

Blue vests and badges have become targets.”

Blue vests and badges have become targets, so now journalists have to blend in with the crowd so as not to be detained. Now the repression has reached an extreme. Criminal cases were opened against journalists. We are aware of at least four cases of criminal persecution of journalists.

TUT.BY journalist Katerina Borisevich was detained on 19 November and has been in a KGB pre-trial detention center until now.

Borisevich ended up there after she published a medical document, which revealed that blood alcohol of the beaten and deceased Roman Bondarenko was 0 ppm. Meanwhile, the Investigative Committee and Alexander Lukashenko believe that he was drunk. Roman’s relatives have no issues with Katerina. Moreover, Roman’s mother gave permission to publish the documents.

But the Prosecutor General’s Office has claims against Katerina and an emergency hospital doctor, who is also in the KGB pre-trial detention center. The prosecutor’s office considered that “the actions of the named persons entailed grave consequences, expressed in increased tension in society, creating an atmosphere of mistrust in the competent state bodies, prompting citizens to aggression and illegal actions.”

At the same time, none of those who beat Roman was detained, moreover, a criminal case was not even initiated on this case!

Text by TUT.BY editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova, translated by Elena Pashinina