Another blow to the press Belarusian authorities raid Nasha Niva newsroom, block website, and arrest journalists
The crackdown on the independent media in Belarus shows no sign of stopping. On July 8, police raided the newsroom of the prominent online newspaper Nasha Niva and the homes of its journalists. Officers detained editor-in-chief Yahor Martsinovich and several Nasha Niva journalists have been unable to reach colleagues. Earlier in the day, the Belarusian Information Ministry said the news outlet’s website had been blocked. (At the time of this writing, it was inaccessible to readers both in Belarus and abroad.)
On the morning of July 8, the website of the independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva wouldn’t open. Readers were unable to access it from Belarus and from abroad. The Belarusian Information Ministry said that it had blocked the site in response to a notice from the Attorney General’s Office — allegedly, Nasha Niva’s website was distributing prohibited information. The Information Ministry didn’t specify what information exactly.
Law enforcement officers then began carrying out raids at the Nasha Niva editorial office and the homes of its staff. They also detained the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Yahor Martsinovich, and searched his home. The security officers who raided the editorial office seized documents from the accounting department, and took the newspaper’s head accountant, Volha Rakovich, to her home so they could conduct another search. Officers also raided the home of Nasha Niva editor Andrey Skurko. At the time of this writing, several other Nasha Niva journalists weren’t answering their phones; Nasha Niva suspects that former chief editor Andrey Dynko has also been detained. The grounds for the investigative actions remain unknown.
Also on July 8, the Belarusian security forces arrived at the editorial offices of two regional media outlets — the Brest-based Brestskaya Gazeta and Intex-Press, which covers the city of Baranavichy. Journalists from Intex-Press told Nasha Niva that KGB officers (Belarusian intelligence) were searching their editorial office. No further details were available at the time of this writing.
In May, the Belarusian authorities went after the country’s most prominent independent media outlet, Tut.by, in a similar manner. The financial police raided Tut.by’s editorial office and the homes of several journalists; Belarus’s Information Ministry also blocked the news outlet’s website. As it turned out, the authorities had launched a felony tax fraud case against Tut.by’s leadership. In connection with the case, they arrested 15 people associated with the publication, including Tut.by director Liudmila Chekina, head accountant Anzhela Asad, and editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava. In mid-June, the Belarusian Interior Ministry asked the courts to blacklist the outlet’s “media products” and social media content as “extremist.” Consideration of the claim was postponed after Tut.by’s lawyers filed a counter petition. Nevertheless, Tut.by took down its social media archive from the last 18 months as a precautionary measure.
Nasha Niva is one of the most popular media outlets in Belarus. It was re-established in 1991 as a revival of the Belarusian-language newspaper Nasha Niva, which was published on a weekly basis from 1906 to 1915 and was known for publishing many classic works of Belarusian literature. Nasha Niva stopped its paper edition in 2018, becoming an online-only newspaper. To this day, Nasha Niva publishes in Belarusian.
After the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, Nasha Niva’s website was blocked and its journalists were detained. Nasha Niva journalist Natalya Lubnevskaya was injured by a rubber bullet while covering an opposition demonstration. In September 2020, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Yahor Martsinovich, was detained for two days (he was later found guilty of participating in an unsanctioned rally and fined). Martinovich was arrested again in October 2020 and March 2021 — on both occasions he was detained at protest rallies, alongside Nasha Niva photographer Nadzeya Buzhan.
In September 2020, Martsinovich became a suspect in a defamation case. It was opened over allegations against Belarus’s then-Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Barsukov (Alyaksandr Barsukou), published in a Nasha Niva interview with Uladzislau Sakalouski — a Belarusian sound engineer who was jailed for 10 days after playing the famous protest song “I Want Changes!” during a pro-government rally in Minsk ahead of the 2020 presidential vote. Sakalouski told Nasha Niva that while in custody in Minsk’s notorious Okrestina Street detention center, he was beaten up by Alexander Barsukov himself.
The authorities detained Martsinovich in connection with the libel case and he spent three days in the Okrestina Street detention center. They then released him after banning him from leaving the country. That said, Martsinovich had no plans to leave Belarus. Asked about the Sakalouski interview, the Nasha Niva editor-in-chief told MBX Media, “We published honest material and what I need to do for justice — well okay, I have to do it, these are costs that can’t be avoided.”
Translation by Eilish Hart