The situation came to a head this week when the Tut.by news, media and service internet portal, the largest and most popular independent news media in Belarus, was forced to close down after what was described as a tax audit.
Tut.by’s offices and employees’ homes were searched and journalists were arrested. According to the authorities, the closure of the portal was due to a violation of media laws.
Since the protests that began last autumn following fraudulent elections, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up their persecution of journalists who have been practising their profession and reporting on what is happening in the country.
According to the Belarusian human rights organisation Vyasna, as of 21 May there were 404 prisoners in Belarus considered to be political. According to Reporters Without Borders, 16 journalists are among them. Many of the imprisoned journalists have reported being tortured, including being prevented from sleeping for several days in a row.
There have also been attempts to silence journalists and the media through ongoing unfounded trials and fines. Independent monitoring in Belarus is also hampered by the fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has effectively stopped accrediting foreign journalists.
The UJF demands that the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko immediately release journalists imprisoned on political grounds and allow independent media coverage. The UJF calls on the Finnish government to take active steps to stop the systematic persecution of journalists in Belarus.