Law enforcement officers leave the office of the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists following a search in Minsk, Belarus, on February 16, 2021. Authorities recently labeled the BAJ and the Brestskaya Gazeta newspaper as “extremist." (Reuters/BelaPAN)

Belarusian authorities label newspaper, journalists’ association as ‘extremist’

Paris, March 7, 2023 — In response to multiple news reports that the Belarusian security service recently labeled the exiled Belarusian Association of Journalists and independent newspaper Brestskaya Gazeta as “extremist,” the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for authorities to stop harassing the organizations and let them work freely:

“By labeling the Belarusian Association of Journalists as ‘extremist,’ Belarusian authorities are doing nothing but lashing out at an organization that has already been forced from the country in retaliation for its fight for journalists’ rights,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must stop obstructing BAJ and the Brestskaya Gazeta newspaper’s work and cease using extremism legislation to silence independent journalism.”

The KGB decisions on both cases were issued February 28 and made public this week, according to those reports and a statement BAJ deputy head Barys Haretski sent to CPJ. Anyone charged with creating or participating in a group that has been labeled as extremist faces up to 10 years in prison, according to the Belarusian Criminal code.

“Under the current conditions, no one in Belarus should publicly call themselves a BAJ representative,” Haretski told the Poland-based outlet Belsat TV.

Haretski’s statement said that the group will continue its work from exile and considered the decision “absurd” and “a new manifestation of the authorities’ pressure on Belarusian media outlets and journalists.” Founded in 1995, the association documents press freedom violations, provides support for journalists in trouble, and has more than 1,300 members. Belarusian authorities have repeatedly obstructed BAJ’s work, raided its offices, and in 2021 dissolved the organization.

In July 2021, authorities raided Brestskaya Gazeta’s office. When authorities declared that its website featured extremist content in November 2021, the outlet said it considered its persecution “politically motivated” and would continue its work. Brestskaya Gazeta’s website is continuing to publish as of Tuesday.

CPJ emailed the KGB for comment but did not receive any replies.