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125 Days Behind Bars — RFE/RL Journalists Face Unrelenting Pressure in Belarus

Clockwise from top left: Belarus Service consultant Ihar Losik with his daughter; journalist Alyaksandra Dynko being detained while reporting live in June; journalist Anton Trafimovich, after being released from detention in July; photojournalist Uladz Hrydzin on assignment.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During the past three months of a violent and contentious election season in Europe’s last autocratic stronghold, RFE/RL journalists in Belarus have faced the most intense harassment since they first began working inside the country 30 years ago.

“Our journalists have spent more than 125 days behind bars since June 25,” said Alexander Lukashuk, director of RFE/RL’s Belarus Service. “In the course of covering the presidential election and the more than 50 days of protests that have followed, they have been harassed, beaten, jailed, and stripped of their accreditation.”

The August 9 elections, fueled by public anger over government denial of the coronavirus pandemic and economic decline, were roundly condemned in the U.S. and Europe as fraudulent. Throughout the ensuing nationwide protests in support of opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and the self-determined inauguration of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL journalists have provided professional on-the-ground coverage of the electrifying events — and paid a high price. Among numerous incidents:

These actions come during an unprecedented crackdown against press freedom in Belarus. At least 17 journalists working for major foreign news organizations — including Hrydzin, Dynko, and three other Belarus-based RFE/RL reporters — were stripped of their accreditation on August 29. Earlier in August, five RFE/RL reporters with expelled from Belarus due to the government’s denial of accreditation.

“Our journalists need accreditation to legally work in Belarus – without it, they’re at grave risk of abuse and arrest,” said RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar. “The Belarus government has spent the last three months deliberately and cynically stripping professional reporters of accreditation. This is a clear attempt to silence truthful news and information from reaching the Belarusian people at a critical moment in their country’s history.”

That Belarusians are seeking trustworthy alternatives to state-controlled media is evident in the record audiences that are consuming RFE/RL’s live news and insightful analysis. The number of subscribers to the Belarus Service’s Telegram channel has tripled to nearly 100,000 since early August, the Service totaled more than 54 million Instagram video views in August and September, and video views on the Service’s YouTube channel in the two months together exceeded 30 million. The Service has deployed mirror sites and an updated news app to circumvent pervasive disruption to internet blockages, and has resumed radio broadcasting via a cross-border AM transmissions. Additionally, live coverage of protests and developments by Current Time, the 24/7 Russian-language digital video network led by RFE/RL, earned its Belarus-related content a combined 294 million views in August and September.

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Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.