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Belarus labels website of Poland-based Belsat ‘extremist’

July 27, 2021

A court in Belarus has classified as “extremist” the website and social media accounts of the Poland-based television channel Belsat, the interior ministry said on Tuesday, in an ongoing crackdown on media in the ex-Soviet country.

Belsat has a Belarusian language service and reported on last year’s historic demonstrations in Belarus against the two-decade rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.

A court in the southeastern city of Gomel has ruled to label the Belsat website and its affiliated social media pages as “extremist materials”, the interior ministry said on its Telegram channel.

The ministry added that reposting information from “extremist sources” can result in a fine or arrest.

For months Belarus was gripped by mass demonstrations after 66-year-old Lukashenko claimed to have won a sixth term in office in an election last August.

Authorities in Belarus are in the midst of a months-long effort to crush remaining pockets of dissent, targeting Lukashenko’s opponents, rights activists and journalists.

Last week, Belarus forced the closure of over 40 independent organisations after Lukashenko promised to “cleanse” the country of NGOs.

Earlier in July, former banker Viktor Babaryko — considered one of Lukashenko’s strongest challengers in the election — was jailed for 14 years on contested fraud charges.

Among the jailed journalists were two female Belsat employees, who were sentenced to two years in prison in February over their coverage of the protests.

Lukashenko and his allies have been slapped with a slew of Western sanctions but they appear to have had limited effect as Belarus maintains the backing from ally and creditor Russia.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.