A Minsk court on July 6 fined Current Time’s Belarus correspondent Raman Vasiukovich 870 rubles (around $343) for working without official accreditation and allegedly violating Belarusian law on the “preparation and dissemination of a mass media product.”
Officials focused specifically on Current Time’s May 25, 2021 Newsday broadcast, in which Vasiukovich reported from Minsk that defense lawyers were not allowed to see detained Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich. Belarus' diversion of Pratasevich's May 23 Ryanair flight and his subsequent detention prompted international sanctions and a restriction of international air transportation to and from the country.
Vasiukovich told Current Time that the government's case against him included screenshots from his Newsday report about Pratasevich as well as a request to Belarus’ Foreign Ministry for his accreditation. The correspondent, who lost his accreditation in August 2020, declined to testify in the government’s case, which it based on Part 3, Article 23.5 of Belarus’ Administrative Code.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty President Jamie Fly called the prosecution of Vasiukovich “legal harassment” that constitutes “the latest chapter” in Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s “war on journalists, journalism, and the truth.”
“The Belarusian people are desperately seeking the truth, and RFE/RL will not waver in our obligation to serving our audiences in Belarus and those outside of the country, including Russia, interested in what is taking place there,” Fly said in a July 2 statement.
Belarusian officials do not appear to have responded publicly.
Since the outbreak of mass protests against Lukashenka’s official reelection as president in August 2020, the government has regularly prosecuted journalists who report information critical of the government.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported in late June that 25 individuals working in media are currently imprisoned in Belarus, according to the human rights organization Viasna (Spring).
In Current Time’s case, at least half of the government’s past complaints have focused on accreditation.
On August 29, 2020, as national protests against Belarus’ official presidential election results were building momentum, the foreign ministry annulled Vasiukovich’s media accreditation. Just ahead of the elections, in early August 2020, three Current Time journalists were deported from Belarus for working without accreditation.
The decision on Vasiukovich’s accreditation came in response to a “submission” from the Belarusian Security Council’s Commission on Security in the Information Sphere. Journalists from Radio Liberty, the BBC, Reuters, AFP, and the German TV channel ARD were affected as well.
Allegations about an allegedly “extremist” publication also have featured in the government’s prosecution of Vasiukovich.
In April 2021, the journalist was fined 580 Belarusian rubles (around $220) for supposedly distributing an “extremist” book, Belarusian Donbas, which explored the impact of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas conflict on Belarus. At the time, police also searched Vasiukovich’s apartment.
Officials had seized the book in December 2020 during a so-called “extremism” check, when Vasiukovich was briefly detained in Minsk’s airport after returning from a trip to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
The government later denied any such detention. It maintains that complaints about press freedom are groundless.
The media-rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders, however, currently ranks Belarus as “the most dangerous country in Europe for media personnel.” It has named de facto Belarusian leader Lukashenka a “predator of press freedom.”