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Key Developments

» Harsh reaction to teddy bear stunt reflects government's repressive practices.

» Amid detentions, travel bans, Belarus named one of world's most censored nations.

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.

  • 10th

    Most censored country
  • 879

    Teddy bears
  • 4

    Jailed during 2012
  • 1

    Threatening package

CPJ ranks Belarus among the 10 Most Censored Countries. in the world. The government employs politicized prosecutions of journalists; travel bans against critical reporters; debilitating raids on independent newsrooms; and wholesale confiscation of newspapers and reporting equipment.

CPJ's 10 Most Censored Nations:
1. Eritrea
2. North Korea
3. Syria
4. Iran
5. Equatorial Guinea
6. Uzbekistan
7. Burma
8. Saudi Arabia
9. Cuba
10. Belarus

Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency, airdropped hundreds of teddy bears bearing press freedom slogans over Belarus in July to call attention to the country's repressive practices. After Anton Suryapin published photos about the stunt on his news website Belarusian News Photos, the KGB jailed him for 34 days. Suryapin, charged with complicity in an illegal border crossing, faced up to seven years in prison. His case was pending in late year.

Timeline of the teddy bear affair:

July 4:

Swedish advertising agency representatives fly over Belarus and airdrop teddy bears.

July 5:

Despite evidence to the contrary, the defense ministry denies that foreign aircraft had entered the nation's air space.

July 13:

The KGB raids Suryapin's apartment in Minsk, confiscating his equipment and taking him into custody.

July 31:

Lukashenko sacks army generals for violation of air space. The KGB demands the Swedes come to Belarus for interrogation. The demand is ignored.

August 8:

Belarus expels Swedish diplomats over the episode.

The authorities jailed at least four critical reporters during the year on retaliatory charges ranging from hooliganism to organizing mass rallies. Among the detainees was Andrzej Poczobut, a prominent reporter for the largest Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who was jailed in June on charges of insulting President Lukashenko in articles critical of government policies. After an international outcry, including protests from CPJ, the authorities released Poczobut in June pending trial.

Jailed in 2012:


Aleksandr Borozenko is sentenced to 11 days in jail for organizing a mass rally. He had covered a one-person anti-government vigil.


Pavel Sverdlov is sentenced to 15 days on charges of hooliganism for supposedly using coarse language in public. Witnesses disputed the allegation.


Andrzej Poczobut is held for nine days on insult charges. His case was pending in late year.


Anton Suryapin is held by the KGB for 34 days on illegal border crossing charges, which were pending in late year.

In June, Irina Khalip received a package containing a severed chicken head, the latest in a years-long effort to intimidate the award-winning journalist, a contributor to the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Khalip filed a complaint about the threat, but police reported no progress.

Timeline of threats against Khalip:

December 2009:

She receives threatening messages by email and phone, warning her to stop reporting.

March 2010:

Police raid Khalip's apartment, confiscate reporting equipment.

December 2010:

The KGB jail Khalip and her husband, opposition politician Andrei Sannikov.

January 2011:

The authorities threaten to seize custody of Khalip's son and put him into foster care.

May 2011:

Khalip is handed a suspended two-year prison term on mass disorder charges. Sannikov is sentenced to five years; he is pardoned in 2012 and flees to the U.K., where is he granted asylum.

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Slideshow: Year in Photos

Slideshow: Year in Photos

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