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Belarusian media environment in 2023

In 2023, the Belarusian authorities continued the war against independent media declared in 2020. Its main tools are administrative and criminal prosecution of journalists; threats and pressure on their relatives who remain in the country; creation of obstacles for media activities by law enforcement agencies; application of anti-extremist legislation criminalising media consumption, including its spread on journalists’ personal social media pages; administrative measures to restrict access to information.


According to the monitoring of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, in 2023 at least 46 media professionals were detained, 34 searches and inspections of premises were carried out, 16 administrative arrests were made. The total number of years of imprisonment according to the sentences handed down to journalists this year alone was 89.5 years.

As of December 31, 2023, there were 34 journalists and media managers behind bars, including 9 women. The harshest sentences were handed down to the editor-in-chief of the TUT.BY news portal, Marina Zolotova, and the general director of the portal, Lyudmila Chekina — both sentenced to 12 years in prison. Valeria Kostyugova, founder and editor of the “Our Opinion” expert community website, editor of the “Belarusian Yearbook,” and head of the “Belarus in Focus” expert group, received a 10-year sentence.

In the 2023 report of the organisation “Reporters Without Borders” Belarus is listed as one of the three largest prisons for media workers in the world (after Myanmar and China) and the country with the largest number of detained women journalists (after China).

The negative trend continues: at the end of 2022, Belarus ranked fifth globally in the number of imprisoned journalists (31) and fourth in the number of imprisoned female journalists (9).

The most common charges against media employees include:

  • Organization and preparation of actions grossly violating public order or active participation in them (Article 342 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus);
  • Treason against the State (article 365 of the Criminal Code);
  • Calling for actions aimed at harming the national security of the Republic of Belarus (Criminal Code, art. 361);
  • Creation of extremist formations or participation in them (article 361-1 of the Criminal Code);
  • Incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord (article 130 of the Criminal Code).

Many journalists have been forced to leave Belarus. Almost all major independent information resources operate from abroad, with some editorial teams having experienced multiple relocations after the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

Twenty-five media and media organizations have been declared “extremist”, including the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian Investigative Centre, all key independent information resources such as Zerkalo, Euroradio, Nasha Niva, Radio Svaboda, BelaPAN, Malanka Media, etc., as well as several regional media: Hrodna.life, Volkovysk.by, Regiyanalnaia Gazeta, Babruisk Online, Brestskaya Gazeta and others.

A new phenomenon of 2023 was the appearance of foreign media among extremist formations — the Telegram, YouTube and TikTok accounts of the Ukrainian blogger Alexander Rykov (BalaganOff), who focuses on Belarusian topics.

In 2023, following online content, articles in print media (some of which were published decades ago), as well as journalists’ personal pages on social networks began to be recognized as “extremist materials”.

12 media representatives have been declared “terrorists” by the authorities (including Marina Zolotova, Valeria Kostyugova, Lyudmila Chekina) and 33 are labeled “extremists.”

In July 2023, changes were made to the “Mass Media” law, justifying the need for “an adequate response to destructive processes in the media space,” further restricting press activities. In particular, the law provides for the possibility of blocking news aggregators for distributing the content of blocked sites, expands the list of grounds for revoking media registration and restricting access to internet resources, and establishes the possibility of applying “symmetrical measures” in response to “anti-Belarusian” attacks by foreign media and journalists.

Throughout 2023, there were further simplifications in the access of security services to the content of internet resources. As a result of this policy, Belarus worsened its position in the world rating of Internet freedom, compiled by the human rights organisation Freedom House, by 13 points compared to 2020: it received 25 points out of 100 and is defined as a country with an unfree Internet.

In the Press Freedom Index 2023, Belarus dropped four positions compared to 2022, ranking 157th out of 180. Belarus’ neighbors rank from 7th (Lithuania) to 79th (Ukraine, which is in a state of full-scale war with Russia).

The Resilience Index of Belarus 2023 assesses the state of the information sphere as a crisis. Its resilience index has hardly changed since 2020, standing at −2.33 (compared to −2.45 in 2022 and −2.46 in 2021). The only positive value is for the “information infrastructure” direction (0.73). For other directions, the indices are negative: “media diversity” — −2.48, “responsibility of information space actors” — −2.95, media-friendly environment — −4.63.


Смотрите также

Польша стала пристанищем для многих беларусов, спасающихся от репрессий, и бегущих от войны украинцев. А ещё – главной мишенью для беларусских пропагандистов. Чтобы дискредитировать Польшу, они манипулировали историей и использовали миграционный кризис на границе Беларуси и ЕС.

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