Belarusian Journalists Still Face Huge Problems


Andrei Bastunets

About Andrei Bastunets

Andrei Bastunets is a vastly experienced journalist who is currently the chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. He is one of the authors of proposals to reform and modernise media legislation in Belarus, as well as a number of draft laws in the field of media.

Belarus came in a lowly 153rd place (of 180) in Reporters Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Other media freedom watchdogs and international organisations have reached similar conclusions: Belarus is ranked amongst the ten least free countries by Freedom House, although – credit where it’s due – it did move up from 194th last year to 192nd this year.

What do these rankings mean for journalists on the ground in Belarus however, in the context of a world in which 74 journalists have so far died this year, and hundreds of have been placed in custody?

Belarus stands out amongst other repressive states not by the number of journalists it targets, but simply by the suffocating degree of control the state places on the informational space. Having taken control over traditional media (publishing, radio and television), the state is trying to extend its reach online, the web remaining the last bastion of freedom for those looking to express opinions and disseminate information throughout Belarus.

Belarusian journalists do of course face real repression, often repeatedly. Previously, these have been in the form of criminal cases over libel in relation to the president, bringing sanctions from the Ministry of Information against the editorial boards of independent media outlets. In recent years journalists have also been detained and handed fines for contributing to foreign media outlets without first obtaining permission from the Foreign Ministry.

However, there has of late been an encouraging change in the way the state operates. If in the critical year of 2011 (when the presidential election was followed by a clampdown on democratic forces and civil society) journalists were detained a total of 167 times, the number decreased from year to year to reach just 13 in 2016.

But in the wake of mass protests launched in the spring of 2017, journalists have once again been targeted and detained in order to prevent the possibility of spreading news of the protests. As a result, the Belarusian Association of Journalists has recorded approximately a hundred detentions in the year to September.

Belarusian journalists are also again being fined for cooperating with the foreign media without approval. This practice was first used in 2014, and for two years, until April 2016, journalists were fined 48 times. Then, abruptly, the practice stopped, and for a year no journalists were fined. Since the spring of 2017 however, the practice has resumed. During the first nine months of 2017 courts imposed around 40 fines on journalists contributing to the foreign press (the amount of each fine is comparable with the average monthly salary in Belarus). What’s more, the reason for fining journalists to justice is not even the content of their pieces, but the very fact that they are being published in foreign media.

The detention of, and fines for, journalists are part of a broader dialogue regarding human rights between the Minsk government and the European Union. Both issues, however, could be solved with a minimum of political goodwill on the part of the Belarusian authorities. Other, chronic problems are more systemic.

These include the repressive nature of the mass media law and legislation on countering extremism, the excessive authority of the Ministry of Information to regulate sources of information, criminal prosecution for free expression, and the high impact of Russian media on the Belarusian audience.

The mass media law provides the Ministry of Information too wide a jurisdiction, from registering content producers and their distributors to initiating cases to shut down media outlets and the extrajudicial blocking of websites. In addition, the law restricts the rights of journalists and the possibility of foreign investment in the media arena.

These restrictions do not in all practicality apply to the Russian media. About 65 per cent of the programmes on Belarusian state television are based on those produced in Russia. As a result, 62 per cent of their audience adhere to pro-Kremlin positions (answering a question posed by sociologists, as to whether events in the Crimea represented the restoration of historical justice or annexation, they chose the first answer, despite the fact that the official position of the Belarusian authorities was different).

In December 2016, Belarusian bloggers Yury Paulavets, Dzmitry Alimkin and Syarhei Shyptsenka were arrested. Their publications on the Russian websites Regnum,, and EADaily contained criticism of the Belarusian state and, according to the Belarusian authorities, could stir discord among the peoples of Russia and Belarus. Criminal cases against the three, under Article 130 of the Criminal Code (Incitement to racial, national, religious, or other social hostility or discord) were initiated by the Ministry of Information on the basis of a ruling from the National Expert Commission on Extremism (itself part of the Ministry of Information) stating that some of their articles contained incitement to hatred.

Some Belarusians supported the authorities, while others see the arrests as a threat to all journalists, regardless of their position. “What these three bloggers wrote could be considered controversial, but that does not justify their imprisonment,” said Johann Bihr, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “According to international standards, their provisional detention is neither necessary nor proportionate.

Before the detention of the three bloggers, in October 2016, another blogger, Eduard Palchys, the founder of the blog (on which he sharply criticised Russia’s actions in Ukraine), was sentenced under the same law.

Besides Article 130, there are six parts of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus which allow for punishment for libel and insult, including increased responsibility for libel and insult in relation to the president (provisions which are actively applied), and discrediting the Republic of Belarus.


The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.

Photo: Anton Ruliou


Examining How a Strong Swiss Franc Could Single-Handedly Topple Poland’s Economy

Belarus: On the Way to a Market Economy?

Adam Smith’s Warning for Poland

Romania Surviving the Waves of Recent Political Tsunamis in Europe

After Its Significant Rise the Georgian Economy May Now Fall

Panorama of Tbilisi, Georgia in sunset rays. Vivid, saturated, splittoned image.

The Netherlands’ Objection to the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement could be Costly to Europe

The essence of the Customs Union is protectionism

Falling Student Numbers and Declining R&D Result From Lack of Funds

How Will Poland Approach the Brexit Negotiations?

Hungary’s Nationalist Assault on Free Enquiry

victor orban ceu

Europe at Odds over OPAL and Nord Stream 2

European Volatility Makes Economic Development Slower for Ukraine

Encouraging SME’s Development Will Help Build Belarusian Economy

The Right to Water: Who Can Change Today’s Situation?

Bringing Belarus’ Cultural Past to Life for Belarusians and the World

The Great Stone Industrial Park — Making Doing Business Easy in Minsk

New investors interested in Belarus’ Great Stone Industrial Park

Veni, Vidi, Vici, Or My Personal Experience of Doing Business in Belarus

The EU’s Benign Neglect of Eastern Europe

Emerging Europe and the EBRD host the Outlook on Belarus conference in London

The GREAT London Food Scene

Bakery in London

High-Tech Park in Minsk is growing rapidly

Belarus is the most creative EEU country

Stuck in Neutral: Georgia’s Constitutional Reforms

Tbilisi Parliament Georgia

Breaking trade barriers with CIS has never been easier

“e-Belarus”: Embracing the Internet and its Possibilities

Poland’s Confusing GDP Growth

Let’s Stop Wasting Time Redefining our Place in Europe

Will European Business and Institutions Bolster the New Trends That Have Appeared in Belarus?

The Competitive Edge in Central and Eastern Europe

SOFIA BULGARIA - MAY 5: View of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia on May 5 2016. Sofia is the largest city and capital of Bulgaria.

Can Armenia Keep a Foot in Both Camps?

European union armenia russia emerging europe

Global Expansion in the Digital Age

Smart, reliable and promising

The Proof of a Country’s Readiness to Attract Foreign Investors Lies in the Development of the Insurance Market

Belarus: The Importance Of Diversification

The Deep Roots of Currency Crises in the Former Soviet Union

Belarusian Tech Companies Lead a Global Technological Advance in Outsourcing and Product Development

Lukashenka seeks to avoid commitment to Russia’s geostrategic goals

Business Mentors Helping to Solve Business Development Problems First

Portrait of confident business people interacting in the office

CEE — Do We Need a Launch Pad For Our On-Site Tech Intelligence in the Silicon Valley

Only a United Opposition Can Defeat Poland’s Ruling Law and Justice Party

Classical building of Polish parliament. Warsaw in Poland.

Central and Eastern European Consumers Are Joining the Global Trends for Change

IMF Believes State-Owned Enterprises Must Be Reformed

Image of the banknotes of new Belarusian banknotes five rubles put into circulation July 1 2016

Falling into Old Ways in 2017? Ukraine’s Struggle for Functioning Economic Institutions

21st century Manufacturing Arrives at Great Stone

Great stone

How Will Trump’s Visit Affect Polish Politics?

Donald trump

Old Fashioned Skulduggery Overshadows the Elections in Moldova

A Bosnian Referendum Shows Russia’s Influence in the Balkans—As Well As Its Limits

Brexit Is a Great Opportunity to Attract Foreign Investors to Belarus

A Strategic Asset for Regional Growth and Development in the EU

Pier bridge crane and cargo handling cargo trains transported away.

Belarus and Singapore Share the Same Factors for Economic Success

Rolling Sales Procedures Together so Everyone Succeeds


The CEE Region Is Making Advances in Prioritising Waste-to-Energy Projects

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Moldova Falls Victim to Politicising

moldova emerging europe

OECD: Belarus Has to Find Its Own Belarusian Model to Emerge

Feel the Vibe of the City of Minsk

Trinity suburb in Minsk (Nemiga) Belarus on 20 May 2017

E-lifestyle and Cyber Security: Some Views From Estonia

Cyber Security Protection Firewall Interface Concept

Belarus-Turkey Investment Forum to increase investment and trade between the two countries

Poland Challenges the European Identity

Poland emerging europe

Belarusian Economic Recovery May Downgrade Intended Reforms for Competitiveness

Foreign Investors: Belarus Offers Opportunities But Further Improvements Are Needed

Emerging Europe Live: Life in Belarus As Seen by Foreigners

The Sharing Economy Could Bring New Business Models to CEE

Using Words to Paint a Picture – Belarus’ Nobel Prize Winning Novelist

Cautious Upturn in Emerging Europe Haunted by the Spectre of Uncertainty

Donald Trump

The Voice of European Business Must Be Heard Loud and Clear by Brexit Negotiators

Belarus is Bringing Opportunities for European Companies

Great Stone

Regional Relations in the Western Balkans: Moving Beyond Folklore

Bosnia and Herzegovina flag with Serbia flag, 3D rendering

EU Visa-Liberalisation Strengthens Georgia’s Pro-Western Path

georgia emerging europe eu

The Long Tail of Global Expansion

Germany and Belarus: Thinking Globally Acting Locally

The EU’s Choice: Fundamental Reform Or Disintegration

China: A Giant That Is Hard to Crack

Belarus Is Making the First Steps onto the International Finance Floor

The Capital Markets Union: a New Beginning in the European Financial Sector?

Finalising the DCFTA is Expected to Bring Multiple Benefits to Ukraine

Where’s My Cheese? – The GREAT British Food Tour 2014

Cheese Shop

Belarus Is One of the Top Outsourcing Destinations of 2016

How strong is V4?

Viktor Orban

A Positive and Modern View of Entrepreneurship

Fiscal Policy Predictability in CEE — It’s Time for Change

Innovation Brings Great Opportunities to the Belarusian Economy

Germany Is Not Letting Belarus’ Small Downturns Put it off Looking for Investment Opportunities

The Morawiecki Plan Promises a Brighter Future for Poland

People Power Reminds the Government of the Rule of Law

Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

EY: Belarus’ IT Scene Is Thriving

High tech park minsk

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

FocusEconomics: Belarusian Economy to Grow in Q4 2016 and Onwards

Breaking With Imitations of the Past

Central And Eastern Europe At the World Property Market

A New Modern Mall Hopes to Draw Belarusians Back to the Home Market

RRY Capital

Could the West At Least Help Ukraine To Insure FDI Against Political Risks?

Hungary and Israel: the Collision of Past and Present

Budapest synagoge

Will the New Five-day Visa-free Regime Encourage More Visitors to Belarus?

Will Poland Leave the European Union?


‘No’ To a Monetary Union With Russia

Emphasising the Incongruence Between the V4 Countries

Macron emerging europe

More EU Help for Belarus SMEs

GRODNO BELARUS - DECEMBER 13 2013: Seamstress in textile factory sewing with a industrial sewing machine .

The Country Shows Promise but Needs Some Reforms

Why Is Belarus Tech Booming?

Political Tensions Rise As Croatia Allegedly Breaks the Dublin III Refugee Regulation

croatia migrants

Italy and Belarus: A Relationship Based on Complementarities and History

Azerbaijan: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing


Minsk International Airport Widens its International Reach


Resignation in Ukraine: War, Revolution, Crisis — Some Things Never Change

Belarus 2020: Turning the Vicious Circle Into an Upward Spiral

World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016 Resume For Emerging Europe

Winds of Change for Belarus’ Reinsurance Industry?

The Global Outsourcing Industry — the Rise of the Phoenix

Poland’s Unicorn, Slovakia’s Flying Car and the Future of Europe

Business Opportunities in Belarus Encourage Outside Interest

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

Eu hungary poland

After 25 Years of Restructuring, the Romanian Power Sector Is at a Crossroad

Serbia, Belarus and Ukraine Ranked Lowly by Wharton Business School

Kyiv Ukraine - April 172017: The postal square in Kiev on Podol the Dnipro river. view of the square from the river panorama

Europe Needs To Be More Proactive In Embracing Armenia

Poland’s Capital Saturation Lower Than the Czech Republic’s

deloitte fdi poland

Impact of Brexit on EU-CEE Not Overstated

theresa may brexit

Belarus Is Ready to Begin With Venture Capital Investments

Ukraine’s Reputation for Cheap Labour May Not Ring True in the Long-term

Putin Urges Belarus to End Oil Transit Through Lithuania

Athens Greece - May 27 2016: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers

The Next Four Months Crucial For the Belarus-EU Relations

Belarus Has To Make an Extra Effort To Change Investors’ Perceptions

A New Division Between Eastern And Western Europe?

Business Moving Forward with Cautious Optimism — Can Investors Win the Confidence Game?

Invest in Belarus: looking beyond politics to the future

We, the Post-Communist Generation, Have the Skills to Rid of the Past And Create Our Own Future

Partnership is the Key to CEE-Indian Business

International Women’s Day — Let’s Take Action And Then Celebrate

Belarus US Business Relations Thrive as Conditions Improve

Ex-Transition Economies’ FDI Recovery

dollar euro fdi

PiS Uses Media Control to Bring Poland to Heel

Jaroslaw kaczynski pis emerging europe

Belarus Introduces New Business-Friendly Auditing Procedures

MINSK, BELARUS - AUGUST 15, 2016: Aerial view of the southwestern part of the Minsk with Palace of Sport and old and new other buildings. Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus.

Why Hungary’s New NGO Law Is Harmful for Business

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

Czech Own Currency Insures Against Euro Losses

Euro Czech republic emerging europe

January Kicks Off an Exciting Year for Emerging Europe

History as Destiny? Institutional Erosion in Ukraine and Poland

Are There Differences Between How Tax Regulations in Poland and IAS Treat Intangible Assets?

Long-time Neighbours Need to Share Awareness, Plus Trade & Investment

The Belarusian Banking Sector Moving Towards Modernisation Despite Some Challenges

The UK and Belarus: A Partnership to Introduce the Real Belarus to Europe

PandaDoc — Rolling Sales Procedures Together So Everyone Succeeds

Belarusian Economy on a Diet to Change its Financial Outlook

Belarus: Navigating the geopolitical storm

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Under Promise, Over Deliver: Prospects for the EU’s Eastern Partnership in 2018

Eastern partnership

EU-CEE Is Still Growing at a Healthy Rate

Prague emerging europe

Belarus Serves up Some Recipes for Success

Business in Belarus Recipe Book

2018 Elections — Vital Decisions for Hungary’s Future

Victor Orban energing europe

Foreigners choose Minsk and Gomel as Belarus’ most attractive FDI destinations

Emerging Europe Live: CEE — The Outsourcing Destination

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic


Poland: Is it Ready, and is it Time to Adopt the Euro?

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

Changing Perspectives and Showing That True Romania is a Vibrant Innovative Country

Young Well-Paid IT Specialists Are Making Belarus Known Internationally

Belarus Has Set an Example for Others to Follow

LGBT in CEE — A New Acceptance Is Being Born From Migration

Albania’s Election Apathy

tirana albania

Good Match But Unlikely Marriage

Slovenia’s Presidential Election: Pahor Expected to Romp Home

Slovenia flag against blue sky waving in wind

Belarus’ Economy Is Slowly Recovering From Past Declines

The EU Is Encouraging Belarus to Join the World Trade Organisation

Belarus: Changing Old Ideas And Mixing With the New in Belarus’ Export Market

Is the CEE Region About to Steal the Outsourcing Crown From India?

Amazing view on the Taj Mahal in sunset light with reflection in water. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river. Agra Uttar Pradesh India.

The Shopping Experience Is Set To Go Global in Belarus from 2017 Onwards

Polish Tax Laws — Fighting a Winning Battle Against Tax Evaders

Swimpassing Dniester Without Prejudice To Democracy

Parliament of the republic of moldova in chisinau, national flag, stefan cel mare street, spring time with blue sky

The Belarusian Financial Sector: An Industry in the Process of Restructuring

Poland’s Drift Away From Democracy

Will a Two-speed European Union Side-line the Visegrad Four?

United or Divided? Europe in the Face of the Challenges of Tomorrow

Belarus’s Election Tests the EU’s Global Strategy

Prepare for a New Europe

Belarus Is Where the New Silk Road Heads For Europe

The Belarusian Economy: The Challenges of Stalled Reforms

HTP: Belarus’ Engineers Are Leading a Cool Revolution

While the EU Makes Plans for CEE China Makes Investments

Nuclear Security Summit In Washington, 2016

Is there any prospect of ‘Polexit’?

poland european union polexit

Office Space Vacancy is Currently Low but Building Standards Cause Concern

Minsk Belarus - March 23 2017 modern architecture business center Pokrovsky on Pobediteley Avenue editorial

Macedonia’s Controversial Coalition Government

SKOPJE MACEDONIA emerging europe

Brexit: Let’s Learn the Lesson and Hope a Better Europe Will Arise

Despite Public Anxieties, Migration is Playing a Key Role in ECA Growth

Bratislava city aerial panoramic view. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia.

Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Measuring Growth of Societies with GDP Alone Shows an Incomplete Picture

CEE-Benefits and Disadvantages of Joining the Eurozone

forint zloty euro

Poland Needs to Cling to the Eurozone

zloty euro emerging europe

The Belarusian real estate market is on the up

When Neutrality Isn’t an Option

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *