Belarus government blocks media outlet, detains reporters

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks with people after the wreath laying ceremony at Mound of Glory war memorial marking Independence Day, on the outskirts of the capital Minsk, Belarus, Saturday, July 3, 2021. (Maxim Guchek/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Belarusian authorities on Thursday blocked the website of a leading online media outlet and detained several of its journalists, the latest move in a sweeping crackdown on dissent and independent media in the ex-Soviet nation.

Belarus’ Information Ministry said it has blocked Nasha Niva’s website after the Prosecutor General’s office had accused it of posting unspecified unlawful information.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists, or BAJ, said that the authorities conducted searches at Nasha Niva’s offices, detained its chief editor Yahor Martsinovich and editor Andrey Skurko and searched their apartments. Another four Nasha Niva journalists couldn’t be reached, the BAJ said.

Nasha Niva journalist Аrtsem Harbatsevich likened the crackdown to the authorities’ earlier action against another top independent news portal, Tut.by, which similarly saw its website blocked and journalists detained in May.

“It’s a crackdown on the editorial office in the worst Soviet-era tradition,” Harbatsevich told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Minsk.

Nasha Niva, which was founded in 1906, is the oldest and the most authoritative Belarusian media outlet. Its online audience exceeds 100,000.

Both Nasha Niva and Tut.by extensively covered months of protests against Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, which were triggered by his reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that was widely seen as rigged.

The authorities responded to demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Leading opposition figures have been either jailed or forced to leave the country.

The European Union and the United States have responded to the crackdown by slapping Belarus with sanctions. They have imposed new, tougher restrictions after Belarus diverted a passenger jet on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist.

The website of Tut.by has been blocked since May and 12 of its journalists have remained in jail pending trial.

Overall, 27 Belarusian journalists are currently in custody, either serving their sentences or awaiting trial, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

“The crackdown on independent media in Belarus is continuing,” said the association head, Andrei Bastunets. “The authorities have decided that they can deprive millions of citizens of information. The authorities see journalists and independent information as their main enemies.”

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