The Belarus office of Radio Svaboda, the local branch of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, is seen following a raid by law enforcement today. (Photo: RT/Telegram)

RFE/RL office raided, journalists detained as Belarus crackdown continues

Stockholm, July 16, 2021 – In response to Belarusian authorities’ raids today of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, searches of numerous journalists’ homes, and the detention of several members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“With today’s raid on the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the detention of yet more journalists, Belarusian authorities show that they are determined to detain or intimidate every last independent reporter in the country,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director, in New York. “The international community must step up pressure on President Aleksandr Lukashenko to release all jailed journalists and once and for all stop harassing media outlets for covering the news.”

Early this morning, security forces raided RFE/RL’s office in Minsk, where officers broke down doors, confiscated equipment, and sealed the office’s main entrance, according to multiple news reports and posts on the Telegram channel of RFE/RL’s Belarus service, Radio Svaboda.

Security officers also searched the homes of RFE/RL correspondent Valyantsin Zhdanko and former RFE/RL correspondents Aleh Hruzdzilovich and Ina Studzinskaya, whose accreditations were cancelled by the authorities last year, according to those reports.

Officers detained Hruzdzilovich and Studzinskaya following the raids, according to Radio Svaboda director Aleksandr Lukashuk, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. He said the two former correspondents remain in detention, and did not know whether they had been formally charged with a crime.

In a statement today, the Investigative Committee of Belarus accused members of the media and nongovernmental organizations of a number of financial crimes, including illegally funding protests. It also alleged that Zhdanko received a high salary for his work at RFE/RL, but did not accuse him or any other specific journalists of specific crimes, except for Andrei Aliaksandrau, founder and chief editor of the news website Belaruski Zhurnal, whom authorities have charged with tax crimes and treason, as CPJ has documented.

Law enforcement officers also raided the homes of at least 20 other journalists around the country today, including at least 17 with the Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat, according to those news reports and Belsat TV Deputy Director Aleksei Dzikavitskiy, who spoke to CPJ by phone. At least three of those Belsat journalists are in detention, Dzikavitskiy said, adding that he did not know if they had been formally charged with any crime.

The statement did not provide reasons for today’s specific newsroom raids or journalist detentions.

Authorities’ current wave of raids on independent media outlets and detentions of journalists has been ongoing for over a week, as previously documented by CPJ.

[Editor’s Note: The text in the fourth and fifth paragraphs has been updated to correct the spelling of Aleh Hruzdzilovich’s name.]