Paris, April 11, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday expressed grave concern about news that independent Belarusian newspaper Infa-Kurier stopped its work on Saturday, April 8, after Belarusian authorities labeled the outlet’s content “extremist.” The decision to stop the outlet’s work also came after several of its journalists were detained, and its offices were raided in March.
“By detaining Infa-Kurier’s journalists, raiding the outlet’s office, and labeling its content ‘extremist,’ Belarusian authorities have effectively driven one of the country’s last independent regional outlets out of operation,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Belarusian authorities should cease using the country’s shameful extremism legislation to suppress independent reporting.”
On March 15, authorities in the central city of Slutsk searched Infa-Kurier’s editorial office, seized technical equipment, and detained four of its journalists. Two of them were released after signing a nondisclosure agreement, while a court ordered chief editor Syarhei Stankevich and deputy editor Aleh Rubchenya to be arrested for 15 days for allegedly disobeying police. Both were released on March 30.
On March 28, a court in the capital, Minsk, labeled six Infa-Kurier articles published in 2020 as “extremist,” according to reports and Zhanna Avdeeva, the publishing editor of Infa-Kurier’s print edition, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app. On April 5, the same court declared all of Infa-Kurier’s content “extremist,” according to news reports and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
On April 8, Infa-Kurier announced in a statement, which CPJ reviewed, that it was stopping all print and online operations. “We are not ashamed of the 23 (+) years we have lived! Sorry for such a frustrating and unpredictable ending! We didn’t choose it,” the statement said.
Avdeeva told CPJ that the “extremist” label was the “final blow” to the outlet, as they had no intention of stopping their work before the label. Infa-Kurier was not told who initiated the two extremism trials, Avdeeva said, adding, “We were not invited to the court. We don’t know who the judge was; we don’t know who the linguist who identified ‘extremism’ in our materials was.”
“This is a political order,” Avdeeva told CPJ, adding that Infa-Kurier is facing the same degree of rejection by the authorities and has a similar level of influence as leading independent news website Tut.by, albeit “on a local scale.”
Founded in 2001, Infa-Kurier is a newspaper covering history and news in Slutsk, according to the statement. “[Infa-]‘Kurier’ was the region’s brand. It was trusted; it was read [and] respected, even by officials,” Avdeeva told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Partyzanski District Court of Minsk for comment but did not receive any reply.