The Belarusian authorities’ crackdown on media freedom took a turn for the worse this week, after Press Club Belarus members were detained and had their apartments searched. Four employees have been arrested.
The organization’s leader Yulia Slutskaya was detained at Minsk airport on Dec. 22 following her return to the country and her apartment was searched. She remains in detention as of early Dec. 23, despite multiple calls for release from international organizations.
Also arrested was Program Director Alla Sharko. Journalists who arrived while authorities were searching her apartment were detained.
“The fate of Sergei Olshevsky, Director of the Press Club, and Sergei Yakupov, Program Director of the Press Club Academy, is still unknown,” Press Club Belarus informed on their website.
According to the State Control Committee, the government agency in charge of the proceedings, the investigation concerns violations of tax law linked to obtaining funds from abroad.
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The move comes following the announcement by Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei that measures would be taken against entities supported by foreign embassies. It is common practice for embassies in the former Eastern Bloc to support NGOs, from cultural associations to non-profit media.
The Press Club Belarus is a leading media NGO in the country, which has been a driver of various initiatives supporting the media sector, including organizing roundtables, workshops and bringing numerous international trainers to the country.
It was founded in 2011 by Slutskaya, who initially ran the organization from Warsaw, but moved to Minsk after the level of repression somewhat abated.
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The past four months have seen consistent violations of journalists’ rights and media freedom in Belarus. Since the protests started on August 9, there have been 385 detentions of journalists, with 81 then sentenced to arrests. The Belarusian Association of Journalists has been compiling data on the overall numbers and specific cases in a table.
The actions against Press Club Belarus coincided with the publication of a report on the deteriorating situation in the country. The European Federation of Journalists just published an online collection of 20 stories of journalists victims of repression titled “Why are you beating me?”.
At present, 4 journalists remain in arrest: Katsiaryna Andreyeva (Belsat), Katsiaryna Barysevich (Tut.by), Daria Chultsova (Belsat), Aliaksandra Pilipovich-Sushchyts (Nasha Niva). The first three are facing criminal proceedings, and the journalists are potential facing multi-year sentences.
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