Belarusian authorities have expelled some foreign journalists reporting in the country and withdrew the accreditation of many Belarusian reporters covering the major anti-government protests that erupted after a contested presidential election earlier this month.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks, rejecting President Alexander Lukashenko’s landslide victory in the August 9 vote, which his opponents say was rigged. Several people were killed and hundreds more injured in a violent police crackdown, with thousands of protesters detained.
Ahead of another protest scheduled for Sunday, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said at least 17 journalists were deprived of their credentials, which are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among them were a video reporter and photographer from the Reuters news agency, two from the BBC and four from Radio Liberty.
“We condemn in the strongest terms this stifling of independent journalism,” the BBC said on Saturday.
The Associated Press news agency also said two Moscow-based journalists who covered the recent protests in Belarus were deported to Russia on Saturday. In addition, Belarusian PA journalists have been informed by the government that their press credentials have been revoked.
“The Associated Press denounces in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. The PA calls on the Belarusian government to restore the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts about what is happening in Belarus to the world, ”said Lauren Easton, director of media relations at the agency. Press.
German television broadcaster ARD said two of its Moscow-based journalists were also deported to Russia, a Belarusian producer faces trial on Monday and their accreditation to work in Belarus revoked.
The decision was taken on the recommendation of the country’s counterterrorism unit, the AFP news agency said citing government spokesman Anatoly Glaz.
In comments at a government meeting on July 23, Lukashenko threatened to expel foreign journalists, accusing them of inciting protests against him ahead of the vote.
“President Lukashenko has already complained about media coverage of protests in Belarus and cracked down on foreign media,” said Bernard Smith of Al Jazeera, who reported from Vilnius in Lithuania.
He noted that most of the journalists affected by Saturday’s decision were Belarusians working for foreign media organizations.
“If they continue to work without certification, they risk being arrested,” Smith said.
‘Fear and bullying’
Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is in exile in Lithuania, said on Saturday she was concerned that the government was targeting the media.
“The only way he will try to hang on to power is through fear and intimidation,” she said.
Separately, on Saturday, several Western embassies in Minsk issued a strongly worded statement.
“We condemn the disproportionate use of force and urge the Belarusian authorities to end the violence and threats to use military force against the country’s own citizens and immediately and unconditionally release all those who are illegally detained,” the missions of the United States and the United Kingdom, Said Switzerland and the European Union in the joint statement.
“Politically motivated intimidation and prosecution must end. We call on the Belarusian authorities to respect the country’s international obligations in terms of basic democratic and human rights. ”
The protests, some of which drew huge crowds estimated at 200,000 or more, are the biggest and most sustained challenge of Lukashenko’s 26 years in office, during which he has consistently cracked down on the opposition and media outlets. independent information.
Nicknamed by critics “the last dictator of Europe”, Lukashenko exposed a Western plot to bring him down and dismissed the allegations of rigging.
The results of the presidential election have been rejected by the European Union, which is preparing sanctions against senior Belarusian officials.
Katsiaryna Shmatsina, of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera that the sanctions against “those guilty of human rights violations in Belarus” are “an important step” but added that “the regime considers that this represents the cost of doing business ”.
“This will not prevent them from further intimidating Belarusians. “