The parents of jailed Belarusian blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik say they are trying to remain optimistic ahead of a court verdict expected on December 14. Losik's parents, Alyaksandr and Natallya, told RFE/RL their life is now about "believing that things will change for the better" and that their son was innocent of any charges. Losik has been in pretrial detention since June 2020, prior to the disputed presidential election widely believed to have been rigged by Belarusian autocrat Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The charges against Losik are broadly seen as politically motivated. Also, in a report issued on December 9, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the number of jailed journalists increased in 2021, with Belarus among top five worst countries.
INCIDENTS AND THREATS
Amnesty International has launched an online petition demanding the immediate release of RFE/RL freelance correspondent Vladyslav Yesypenko, who has testified that he was tortured after his arrest in March in Russian-occupied Crimea. Yesypenko, a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen who contributes to Crimea.Realities, had worked in Crimea for five years reporting on the social and environmental situation there before being detained. Russia has sought to crush dissent in Crimea, including prosecuting journalists and human rights activists, since seizing the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014.
Instead of being released from a detention center in Minsk after finishing a 10-day jail term, a freelance journalist for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, Andrey Kuznechyk, was handed another 10-day jail term on a controversial hooliganism charge. Relatives of Kuznechyk told RFE/RL that the journalist was supposed to be released on December 6 but remained in custody. Several hours later, they were told that he had been found guilty of hooliganism again.
Authoritarian leaders are undermining the media and democratic institutions at the peril of peace, Dmitry Muratov, a joint winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, said on December 9 ahead of the award ceremony in Norway's capital, Oslo. At a news conference, Muratov, editor in chief of independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta, said, "Lack of belief in democracy means that, with time, people turn their backs on democracy, you will get a dictator, and dictatorship leads to war."
A Polish investigation has established that there was “no bomb threat” on a Ryanair plane that made an emergency landing in Minsk earlier this year, allowing Belarusian authorities to arrest opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend. The National Public Prosecutor's Office, which oversaw the probe, said in a statement on December 9 that “the whole situation was only an excuse to force the pilot to land” in the Belarusian capital. Pratasevich and Russian citizen Sofia Sapega were arrested on May 23 when authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka scrambled a military jet to escort the Ryanair passenger flight over its airspace to land in Minsk.
Russia's media regulator has blocked the online anonymity service Tor in what is seen as the latest move by Moscow to bring the Internet in Russia under its control. Roskomnadzor announced it had blocked access to the popular service on December 8, cutting off users' ability to thwart government surveillance by cloaking IP addresses. In a blog post, the Tor Project confirmed the move, and also offered users a way to circumvent the block. Also, a Moscow court orders Google to pay more fines for failing to delete content.
In a sign of the two states’ increasingly close political ties, Belarus and Russia’s state-run TV crafted a single narrative to cover the illegal migration crisis on the European Union’s borders: The West is to blame, and Belarus is blameless. Current Time’s Footage Vs. Footage examined in November 2021 just how far -- and deep -- that unified message ran.
Journalists from Kazakhstan and Bulgaria are among the winners of the U.S. State Department's 2021 Anti-Corruption Champions Award. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the annual award laureates on December 8, calling those selected – including Kazakh journalist Zhamilya Maricheva, who works for the Protenge investigative journalism project, and Bulgarian journalist Nikolay Staykov, who is a co-founder of the Anti-Corruption Fund investigative group – "individuals who have demonstrated leadership, courage, and impact in preventing, exposing, and combating corruption.
The editor of a Belarusian media outlet that has covered protests against the Belarusian regime and reported on journalists who have been labeled extremist was arrested on December 8, following a search of his apartment. Syarhey Satsuk, the chief editor of the Ej.by online news outlet, was detained and will be sent to a pretrial detention center, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said. The ej.by website also was blocked.
Satsuk was detained after the search during which his phones and laptop computers were confiscated and after interrogation by the Investigative Committee in an old case related to an alleged bribe.
Human rights and media-freedom watchdogs are calling on Russia to stop prosecuting media lawyers and allow reporters to receive proper legal assistance, as the authorities are "stepping up their harassment" of journalists via the controversial "foreign agents" law. Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued the pleas this week after one of the lawyers defending Ivan Safronov, a jailed investigative reporter charged with treason, fled Russia to Georgia late last month.
Amnesty International says four Kazakh activists have had their mobile devices infected with Pegasus spyware in what it said further shows that the malicious software is being used by governments to try to "silence social movements and crush dissent." Israel’s NSO Group became the center of controversy after an international media consortium in July reported that its Pegasus spyware was used in attempts to hack smartphones belonging to more than a dozen current or former world leaders, journalists, human rights activists, business, and executives, in some 50 countries.