Vilnius, Lithuania, May 8, 2020 – Belarusian authorities should reinstate the accreditations of journalists Aleksey Kruchinin and Sergey Panasyuk and allow them to report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 6, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry cancelled the accreditations for both journalists, which Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anatoliy Glaz said was because their employer, Russian public broadcaster Channel One, “disseminated information that did not correspond with the reality,” according to news reports. Glaz did not name any specific examples of such information, according to those reports. However, in his most recent broadcast from Belarus aired May 6, Kruchinin reported that the country’s COVID-19 death toll may be significantly higher than the official statistics.
Kruchinin, a Russian national, works as a reporter for the broadcaster, and Panasyuk, a Belarussian national, works as a camera operator, according to those news reports. Channel One posted a statement yesterday calling the accusation “absolutely groundless.”
Kruchinin told Belarussian news website Tut.By that authorities ordered him to leave Belarus, and said yesterday that he was already in Russia. He said he was not officially deported and can re-enter Belarus, but not as a journalist. Panasyuk is allowed to stay in the country but cannot work as a journalist, according to Tut.By.
“Stripping journalists of their accreditations and barring them from covering the news is not only censorship, but a public health risk,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Belarusian authorities should allow journalists Aleksey Kruchinin and Sergey Panasyuk to cover the coronavirus pandemic and all other news in the country without fear of reprisal.”
CPJ called Glaz’s office, but a representative who answered the phone declined to comment.
Kruchinin in his May 6 broadcast reported from a cemetery showing many new graves, and spoke to local residents who said their family members had died with coronavirus symptoms but were not listed as confirmed deaths from the pandemic.
Belarus has reported 19,255 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 112 deaths, but has reported no new cases in recent days, according to the World Health Organization.
CPJ called the Russian Foreign Ministry’s press office, but the person who picked up the phone refused to comment.