The Polish editorial office ‘Belsat TV’, based in Minsk, Belarus, was systematically raided by the Belarussian police on the 21st of May 2021. Belsat TV was the last standing independent platform in Belarus under the rule of President Alexander Lukashenko. This was due to the approximately 500 arrests of journalists and media professionals since August 2020 and the closure of ‘Tut.by’ web channel.
This raid symbolised a nation-wide crackdown on dissent in Belarus since President Lukashenko was re-elected last August. The independent platform, consisting of a few rooms, equipped with basic amenities was situated in an anonymous building called “badminton courts” in Ulitsa Ihnacienki.
The 21st of May marked the arrest of six journalists, prompting many of their colleagues to escape Minsk in an attempt to evade a similar fate. Whilst the producer of Belsat TV, Stas Ivas, managed to avoid capture, he stated that two of his colleagues were still being held in jail for two years. He also added that some individuals were forced to flee the country, while a few lucky others obtained release from arrest.
Stas Ivas commented on the contemporary situation in Belarus, by saying that: “working here is almost impossible. Even being the administrator of a little channel on Telegram [encrypted communication app] is totally unsafe: sooner or later, police will discover who you are, and, if you just write something against the government, they’ll catch you”.
Prior to the raid, Belsat TV were investigating the business dealings of Lukashenko’s daughter-in-law and her associates, in addition to an investigation on secret deals between Belarus and Ukraine. The crackdown was a clear message to all those who dare suspect the intentions of Lukashenko, that any obstacles to opposition will be dealt swiftly, ruthlessly and unlawfully.
Journalists, in August and September of 2020, documented numerous arrests and brutalities by the Belarussian police force. Multiple Belsat TV’s video-producers endured the frontlines of the nation-wide protests, witnessing and documenting police brutality on a daily basis. The Belsat video-producer stated that any individual who attends the protest, journalist or otherwise, is in serious danger and should not expect any degree of protection from the local authorities.
A former police officer, Dima, was forced into quitting his job after Lukashenko’s re-election, because he did not want to be part of the demonstrators’ suppression. Due to this action, he was arrested and tortured by his former colleagues. After his release, he was interviewed by Belsat TV in the beginning of May. This interview was shared globally, and Dima was arrested once again, after a few days. Right now, Dima is still detained in the ‘Correctional facility Number Seven’.
“That’s the way things are, here in Belarus” – Belsat TV, 2021.