In May, Belarusian authorities shocked the world by essentially hijacking a plane flying from Athens to Vilnius to detain dissident journalist Raman Protasevich, a former editor of the Nexta channel.
Since then, Protasevich has remained a prisoner of the Lukashenka regime, first in custody under charges of organising mass unrest and “violating public order,” later placed under house arrest.
Lukashenka has now claimed that Protasevich is “practically free” and “can go and work.” Keeping with this notion, Protasevich has announced the launch of a new media project called SPRAVA. The channel is supposed to cover important stories about Belarus and its neighboring countries, providing a “balanced approach to delivering news” with “no place for blatant propaganda” – notably more loyal to the Belarusian government.
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Obviously, a question looming large in this story is the circumstances that has caused, or forced, Protasevich to change his stance. Both he and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega remain in Belarus and under house arrest, likely under constant supervision of the government.
Notwithstanding the methods, it seems that the current Belarusian government has been successful in quieting one of the most influential opposition voices of the 2020 protests. As Wall Street Journal notes, Protasevich “says he is [now] turning away from the opposition movement he helped propel through his grass-roots media network, criticizing Western sanctions introduced to pressure Mr. Lukashenko to step down.”
On a bright side, leaders of Press Club Belarus were released last week after eight months of detention. Amid the government’s crackdown on free press, they had been accused of tax law violations and detained late last year; another member of Press Club leadership, Sergei Yakupov, had been deported to Russia at the time. According to Press Club Belarus’ post published last Thursday, four journalists released were pardoned and freed.
However, according to recent estimates, a year after 2020 mass protests started, 29 media representatives remain behind bars, and over 50 media workers are under criminal prosecution. Access to many news media sites is blocked, and Belarusian authorities are dissolving some notable organisations such as the Press Club Belarus itself.
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