Belarus: vest with print Press becomes a target

Zip Up Big Profits: Heat Printing a Reflective Vest

Persecution by the authorities &# 171; Press Club Belarus – one of the examples of the suppression of freedom of speech by the official Minsk

«Beatings, injuries, detentions. Searches, arrests, trials. Website blocking, refusal to print, deprivation of media status… Belarusian independent journalists and media are no longer protected by the law or by vests with the inscription «Press», no identity» – this is how the internet portal describes «Press under press» the situation with freedom, or rather, the lack of freedom of the media in Belarus.

Four of its creators – management and employees of the organization «Journalist Workshop Press Club», known by common name «Press–club Belarus» – for more than 20 days they have been in a pre-trial detention center. The founder of the Press Club Yulia Slutskaya, its program director Alla Sharko, financial director Sergei Olshevsky and operator Pyotr Slutsky – son of Julia Slutskaya – arrested and placed in a pre-trial detention center, accused of «large-scale tax evasion».

In addition to them, Ksenia Lutskina is imprisoned. – former employee «Belteleradiocompany», resigned from the Belarusian state media in protest and is associated with a project made with the participation of «Press Club Belarus». Another person from the Press Club team, its director «Media academies» – Sergey Yakupov, Russian citizen – first detained, and then without charge, sent to Russia, banning entry to Belarus for 10 years.

During the Soviet era, the Soviet Themis periodically imprisoned famous dissidents in a camp under a criminal article – so that they do not look like political prisoners and, as a result, do not appear in the demands of the West to give these people freedom. This action, however, could not deceive the West, because they understood – public critics of the Soviet regime imprisoned under criminal articles are, above all, prisoners of conscience.

Today’s human rights defenders also have this understanding. – On January 13, a collective statement was issued by human rights organizations in Belarus, which says that Yulia Slutskaya, Alla Sharko, Sergei Olshevsky, Pyotr Slutsky and Ksenia Lutskina are political prisoners.

Relationship with politics in «the Press Club case» – straight. The day before the arrest of people from «Press Club Belarus» The Prosecutor General’s Office of Belarus opened criminal cases against the leader of the Belarusian opposition, ex-presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and members of the opposition coordination council of the Coordination Council, accusing them of «creation and leadership of an extremist group» and «activities with the aim of seizing state power in an unconstitutional way».

At the same time, Belarusian prosecutors announced that they would prosecute everyone who «contributed to the extremist formation».

«We were preparing for the New Year»

About the fate of their colleagues in «Press Club Belarus» tells in an interview with the Russian service «Voices of America» Nadezhda Belokhvostik – Editor in Chief «Media IQ», one of the press club projects:

«We did not expect all this, we were preparing for the New Year. We were supposed to have a holiday… Yulia Slutskaya was returning from vacation that day with her daughter and grandchildren, I was in the office and left, probably half an hour before the search and detentions, when Sergei Olshevsky and Pyotr Slutsky were detained in the office. On December 22, in the afternoon, from about 2 o’clock to 6, they were detained in turn, and, in fact, for a day we did not know where they were. Then the state news agency «Belt» released a comment from the Department of Financial Investigations that they are suspected of tax evasion. From the lawyers who were admitted more than a day later, they took a nondisclosure agreement. This is a typical practice used in Belarus to prevent lawyers from telling anything.».

The pursuit «Press Club Belarus», According to the manager of his international projects Natalia Belikova, it is directly related to the activities of the organization in the field of media:

«The Press Club has always supported colleagues, has always been in solidarity with colleagues. Our project, «Press under press» precisely that, since August last year, the pressure on independent media in Belarus has greatly increased, and we have recorded this. Journalists are being detained, serious media are deprived of their media status, and absolutely unbearable working conditions have been created for the independent press. I think that the attack on the Press Club, among other things, is due to the fact that we were in solidarity with all those journalists who are now working in desperate conditions in Belarus.».

According to Natalia Belikova, the Belarusian authorities are irritated by the international resonance arising from the solidarity of journalists, and they respond with repressions:

«The work of journalists in those media that have been deprived of their media status is, by and large, outlawed. They, in accordance with Belarusian legislation, cannot enjoy the same rights and freedoms as media outlets that are officially registered. – for example, they cannot cover protests. If they do, there is a high risk of being held accountable. «for participating in an illegal or unauthorized event».

Belarus: a vest with an inscription Press becomes a target

Nadezhda Belokhvostik echoes her colleague: «Repressions against journalists are monstrous. Now in the same pre-trial detention center, where the colleagues from «Press Club», sitting my friend Katerina Borisevich, journalist of the Internet media TUT.BY. This is a journalist who wrote about the death of Roman Bondarenko, a guy who defended white and red ribbons in one of the Minsk courtyards. It was officially said that he was drunk, and she wrote that he was not, that he had zero ppm of alcohol in his blood. And now she and the doctor who gave her this information have been in the pre-trial detention center for almost two months. – he was charged «divulging medical secrets».

«There are also journalists with criminal charges, who are also in custody, – the editor-in-chief continues. «Media IQ». – Journalists are also detained during rallies, accused of participation, and imprisoned for 10 to 25 days. So, that same vest «Press», which all accredited journalists are obliged to wear in Belarus does not save anyone. On the contrary, he became a target».

«Respect for journalists has clearly grown»

At the same time, Natalia Belikova emphasizes that journalistic work in Belarus continues: «There are editorial offices that have moved their main offices abroad so that they can continue to work in Belarus. They have teams of journalists in Belarus – just, let’s say, the parent organizations have moved».

Employees «Press Club Belarus», at large, in conversation with «Voice of America» noted that after the incessant waves of violence on the part of the Belarusian security forces and the reports of independent journalists about this violence, the free press began to enjoy greater respect among the citizens of the country than before.

Nadezhda Belokhvostik reports: «Respect has clearly grown, and the value of this support has grown. For example, our largest Internet resource TUT.BY: when they were deprived of their media status, that is, the right to cover, for example, street actions, during one of the many marches, people passing by the TUT.BY office shouted words of support. And at promotions, the photojournalist will be helped to climb higher, and go down, and will be protected, and information will be provided, and even some events will be filmed and sent to Telegram so that the resources are updated. I think there is a lot of support».

At the same time, as Natalya Belikova notes with bitterness, work in the face of persecution has a high price: «To some extent, this probably affects the feeling of the Belarusian society, gives it a feeling of some kind of unity, that people are not alone, that they are all together now. There is such a moment, but at the same time, one must not forget that the government does not stop repressions, which are increasing. The cost of participating in actions related to some kind of civil position increases every day».

According to the statistics provided by the project «Press under press», Since August 2020, journalists in Belarus have been detained almost 400 times, 81 journalists have served their arrest, 15 journalists and media workers have become involved in criminal cases. Lukashenka regime‘s pressure on independent media continues unabated.

Belarus: a vest with an inscription Press becomes a target