Vilnius, Lithuania, October 21, 2021 — Belarusian authorities should stop harassing independent journalists and refrain from charging or imprisoning members of the press over their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, police in Minsk raided the office of the independent weekly online newspaper Novy Chas and the home of at least one of its journalists, according to news reports.
The police took editor-in-chief Aksana Kolb from the office to the Belarusian Investigative Committee, and also took deputy editor-in-chief Syarhey Pulsha into custody after searching his home, according to that report and Pulsha, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Police interrogated both journalists and released them yesterday after signing nondisclosure agreements, according to those reports and Pulsha, who said he was able to confirm that the raid and interrogation took place but could not comment on any other facts of the case because of that agreement.
“Belarusian authorities’ raid on Novy Chas is a sign that the few remaining independent outlets in the country are unable to operate free from official persecution,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must drop any investigation into the newspaper and refrain from detaining, threatening, or harassing its employees.”
Pulsha told CPJ he was unable to comment on whether charges had been filed against him or what, if anything, authorities confiscated from his home. CPJ called Kolb for comment, but her phone was turned off.
Previously, on October 19, police searched the home of Novy Chas photographer Dzimitry Dzimitryeu and confiscated his computer, according to those reports.
Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local trade and advocacy group that authorities officially dissolved in August, told CPJ in a phone interview that Novy Chas is one of the few independent newspapers still active within Belarus.
“It is very important as authorities have forced the majority of media outlets to leave the country,” Haretski said, adding that Novy Chas was distributed in print until June 21, but authorities forced post offices to stop distributing the newspaper.
In recent months, Belarusian authorities have launched a wave of raids and arrests targeting the independent press, and have repeatedly accused outlets of tax evasion and public order violations in retaliation for their coverage of anti-government protests, as CPJ has documented.
CPJ repeatedly called Volha Chemodanava, the head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, for comment, but no one answered.