Attacks on the Press
President Aleksandr Lukashenko presided over one of the world's most censored nations, continuing policies that sought to suffocate critical journalism and dissenting opinion. At least four reporters, all of them known for critical coverage, were barred from traveling outside the country in March. Another four reporters were jailed during the year, while numerous others faced threats, harassment, fines, and assaults. The government's repressive practices were illustrated by its harsh reaction to a Swedish ad agency stunt in which hundreds of teddy bears pinned with press freedom slogans were airdropped over the country. The KGB jailed one reporter who covered the stunt, and interrogated and fined two others who published photos and stories about the airdrop. The episode led to the sacking of top army generals and a foreign minister, along with the expulsion of the Swedish ambassador. The country grew increasingly isolated during the year. In February, the government expelled Polish and European Union ambassadors after the EU widened travel bans against Belarusian officials due to the country's human rights failures. Lukashenko himself was subjected to an embarrassing travel restriction: He was barred from the 2012 Olympic Games in London because of an EU travel ban imposed after Minsk harshly cracked down on election protests in December 2010. In September 2012, the country's parliamentary election was marred by reports that election officials obstructed opposition candidates seeking to register, that state-controlled media refused to grant opposition candidates equitable coverage, and that the KGB cracked down on online activists. Throughout the year, critical media--both local and international--faced domestic blocking online, denial of accreditation, and distribution hurdles.