Belarusian authorities raid top independent newspaper

Authorities in Belarus have raided the offices of the country’s top independent newspaper and taken two of its journalists for questioning

KYIV, Ukraine -- Authorities in Belarus on Wednesday raided the offices of the country's top independent newspaper and took two of its journalists for questioning.

Belarusian authorities searched the offices of the Novy Chas (New Time) newspaper in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and confiscated its computers and other office equipment.

They also raided the apartments of newspaper editor Aksana Kolb and reporter Siarhei Pulsha, and took them for questioning that lasted for most of the day. No charges were immediately announced.

The newspaper extensively covered massive protests that erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election to a sixth term in an August 2020 presidential vote that was denounced as rigged by the opposition and the West.

The Belarusian authorities have responded with a sweeping crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

One of Novy Chas' journalists, Dzianis Ivashyn, has been in custody since his arrest in March following a series of investigative articles about the authorities' clampdown on protests. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted on charges of “interference with police action.”

Overall, 28 Belarusian journalists are in custody, serving their sentences or awaiting trial.

They include Hienadz Mazheyka, a Belarusian journalist for the popular Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, who was arrested earlier this month after writing about an apartment shootout in Minsk that killed two people — an opposition supporter and an officer of the KGB, Belarus’ state security service.

Mazheyka’s report about the shootings in Minsk quoted a friend describing the dead opposition supporter in a positive light. The journalist faces up to 12 years in prison on charges of inciting social strife and insulting authorities.

Komsomolskaya Pravda responded to Mazheyka’s arrest by shutting down its branch in Belarus. Russian officials have voiced regret about the situation, but stopped short of criticizing authorities in Belarus, which has close political, economic and military ties with Russia.

“In the center of Europe, the authorities here are staging a dark experiment, trying to deprive citizens of access to any independent information,” said Andrei Bastunets, the head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. “The independent media in Belarus can still exist thanks to the internet, but the authorities have clearly taken North Korea as a model.”