Belarus Expels Journalists And Withdraws Accreditation In Crackdown

Foreign journalists in Belarus were deported, and many Belarusian reporters lost their accreditations for covering the massive anti-government protests that have been going on in Belarus after the controversial presidential election earlier in August. The protests have gathered crowds of tens of thousands of people as they vocalize their rejection of President Alexander Lukashenko’s victory.

The supporters of Lukashenko’s opponent say the election, which took place on August 9, was rigged. Hundreds of people have been injured in these protests, and several have turned deadly during violent police crackdowns. Thousands of protesters have been detained. The government felt they had to take actions ahead of more planned protests over the weekend and the coming weeks. The decision to crack down on the journalists came from the recommendation of the country’s counterterrorism unit. President Lukashenko had threatened to deport foreign journalists a month earlier, even before the elections, as he accused them of inciting protests against him.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said that at least 17 journalists lost their accreditations. Among those were video journalists and photographers from Reuters, two from the BBC, and four from Radio Liberty. On Saturday the BBC said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism.” Additionally, two Moscow-based journalists were deported to Russia, according to the Associated Press. The government also informed the AP’s Belarusian journalists that their press credentials had been taken. Lauren Easton, the AP’s director of media relations, stated, “The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world.” Germany’s ARD televisions said two of its Russian journalists were deported, a Belarusian producer faces trial this week, and their Belarusian accreditations have been revoked. Bernard Smith, a reporter for Al Jazeera in Lithuania, said, “President Lukashenko has previously complained about foreign media’s coverage of protests in Belarus and has cracked down on foreign media…If they continue to work without accreditation, they risk being arrested.”

“We condemn the disproportionate use of force and urge the Belarusian authorities to stop the violence and the threats to use military force against the country’s own citizens and release immediately and unconditionally all those unlawfully detained,” the missions of the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the European Union said in the joint statement.

Any disruption of the free press and media sources in a country is not good for the people. It is scary to know that there are protests against the government in Belarus and the rest of the world might not know about them or be given inaccurate information about them. Deporting and discrediting journalists is a malicious act on all accounts.

Some of these protests have gathered crowds as large as 200,000 people. Lukashenko has been in office for over 26 years now, and critics consider him a dictator. These protests are the largest that have happened under Lukashenko’s long presidency. He has consistently over his terms, repressed any opposition and media. Many have dubbed Lukashenko “Europe’s last dictator.” The current president is constantly accusing Western countries and sources of plotting against him. Many countries have been calling and demanding fair elections. Still, many have suspected in the months leading up to the elections that Lukashenko would rig the elections and declare himself the winner.

The European Union has rejected the results of the August 9 elections. The European Union is also preparing to level sanctions against several high ranking officials in Belarus. The US, Germany, France, and Poland have also called upon Belarus to ensure fair and free elections. Katsiaryna Shmatsina—from the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies—said that the sanctions against many high ranking Belarusian officials are an important step. But she also said the current regime “considers this the cost of doing business,” and that it will not stop them from committing further human rights abuses against the people of Belarus.