Two photos. On the left, Belarusian authorities break the door of the apartment of exiled journalist Zmitser Kazakevich.. On the right, a photo of journalist Barys Haretski sitting on some stairs.
Belarusian authorities (left) broke the door and then sealed the apartment of exiled journalist Zmitser Kazakevich on May 16, 2024. The next day, law enforcement officers searched the apartment of Barys Haretski (right), the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), in connection to an unspecified criminal case. (Screenshot: Second National TV Channel (ONT)/YouTube; Photo: BAJ)

Belarusian authorities invade homes of 2 exiled journalists

New York, May 21, 2024 — The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Belarusian authorities to stop harassing exiled journalists and ensure the media can work freely, both abroad and at home.

On Thursday, May 16, officers with the Belarusian State Security Committee, or KGB, and representatives of the Ministry of Taxes and Duties sealed the apartment of exiled freelance journalist Zmitser Kazakevich after breaking down the door in the northeastern city of Vitebsk, according to media reports and Kazakevich, who spoke to CPJ and Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian service of U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

On Friday, law enforcement officers in the capital, Minsk, searched the apartment of Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), in connection to an unspecified criminal case, according to BAJ and Haretski, who spoke to CPJ. It is unclear whether officers seized anything in the apartment, as Haretski left Belarus in 2021 and had no belongings there.

BAJ is an exiled advocacy and trade group that documents press freedom violations and provides support for Belarusian journalists.

“After stifling independent media inside the country, the Belarusian authorities will stop at nothing to put pressure on exiled journalists like Zmitser Kazakevich and on those like Barys Haretski who defend repressed members of the press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should immediately reveal any charges filed against Haretski and Kazakevich and stop harassing independent media both inside and outside the country.”

Kazakevich told Radio Svaboda he did not know whether the apartment was searched and that law enforcement officials asked his neighbors if anyone lived in the apartment a day before the raid. The journalist told CPJ he did not know what charges he faced or when they were filed.

“I consider the break-in and sealing of my house in Belarus as revenge. This is an invitation to be executed, which I decline,” Kazakevich told CPJ.

Authorities previously searched Kazakevich’s apartment three times between 2020 and 2021, he told CPJ, including in July 2021. Kazakevich, a freelance journalist who covered the 2020 protests against the disputed reelection of Aleksandr Lukashenko, has been fined and detained in connection to his work and left Belarus in 2021, he told CPJ.

Authorities labeled BAJ as “extremist” in February 2023. Belarusian authorities have obstructed BAJ’s work, raided its offices, and, in 2021, dissolved the organization, prompting its staff to leave the country.

“Searches and criminal proceedings against journalists who have left the country are aimed at intimidating media representatives in general,” Haretski told CPJ. “Authorities cannot influence the independent media, which work from abroad, but they keep reminding them: we are watching you, your every action, every content is monitored. Thus, the authorities force even journalists who have left Belarus to be in fear, to feel persecution and attention of the special services.”

Belarusian authorities recently initiated criminal proceedings against several exiled journalists, according to multiple media reports and BAJ. CPJ is working to determine whether their prosecution is connected to their journalism.

“Independent media still effectively deliver their materials to the audience in Belarus,” Haretski said. “Undoubtedly, this causes anger of the authorities, and they try to pressure people using the means available to them.”

CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee, the KGB, and the Ministry of Taxes and Duties for comment but did not receive any response.

Belarus was the world’s third worst jailer of journalists, with at least 28 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.