The regime of Belarusian dictator President Alexander Lukashenko has long had a difficult relationship with the media. Reporters Without Borders ranks Belarus 153rd in the world for press freedom, and many media outlets are forced to base themselves outside Belarus to escape interference from oppressive media regulation. Ever resourceful, Belarusian journalists are far from cowed, and are expert at finding creative, eye-catching ways to protest their lack of freedom.
Trapped by Kafkaesque regulations
The Alexander Lukashenko regime is expert at using benign-looking regulations to keep its enemies tangled up in knots. This is especially true for independent journalists.
Television reporter Ales Lyauchuk, who works for the Poland-based Belorusian-language television station Belsat, was indicted on Monday for working in the western city of Brest as a journalist without accreditation.
Lyauchuk, like all Belsat journalists, is routinely refused accreditation. The stated reason for turning down his application is because of Lyauchuk’s record as a lawbreaker. And his record as a lawbreaker is a result of… not being able to get accreditation. Kafka has nothing on the Belarusian Ministry of Information.
Lyauchuk has decided not to attend his trail, saying, “It is the fifth time that I will be tried, but this time let the hearing take place without let me; I am not interested in playing this game anymore. During four previous prosecutions I tried to win, but when one plays with a cheater, it is impossible to win. Therefore, what is the point in participating?”
The real reason for Lyauchuk’s arrest is more likely the subject matter of his reporting. Officials in Brest had declared the repairs of a street in the city completed, but Belsat had discovered they had only been half completed and aired complaints by local residents.
Police attack polling station with journalist’s head
However chilling Lyauchuk’s story, his plight is nothing compared to that of Belsat cameraman Andrus Kozel.
While filming a female Belsat journalist interview voters outside a local election polling station two weeks ago, Kozel was beaten and arrested by four policemen. During the arrest the officers broke a glass panel in the polling station door with Kozel’s head.
Still bleeding, he was taken away for detention. Another Belsat cameraman was able to capture footage of the van driving him away. According to reports, Kozel was charged with attacking a policeman.
Alexander Lukashenko receives some noodles for hanging
Alexander Lukashenko has a deep-seeded antipathy for Belsat, which he once charaterized as “stupid, confused, and unfriendly.” But the supression of independent journalists extends far beyond just one satellite news service.
Authorities started blocking pro-human rights Belorusian website Charter 97 in January. The website Belorusian Partisan was blocked in December. Last week in Minsk the apartment of 19 year-old blogger Stsyapan Svyatlou, who runs the popular satirical YouTube site NEXTA, was searched following a complaint that he had insulted Alexander Lukashenko. Svyatlou was away at university in Poland at the time of the raid, but a laptop and camera were seized and he may face criminal charges upon his return.
Fed up, Film director Volha Nikalaichyk and European Belarus activist Artsyom Charnyauka staged a creative protest outside the Belarusian Ministry of Information on Monday. Stirring a large pot of noodle soup, and offering portions to passersby, the activists were drawing attention to the pressure being put by authorities on journalists and bloggers.
In Russian and Belarusian, the phrase “hanging noodles on people’s ears” is the equivalent to the English expression “spinning yarns.” While an unusual-looking protest to non-Belarusians, the point will not have been lost on the bureaucrats at the Ministry.
After making their point, and feeding a few hungry Minskers, the two made off before the police arrived on the scene. So far it is unknown if they will face charges for the unauthorized protest.