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Belarus Arrests Former RFE/RL Journalist


FILE - Ihar Karnei
FILE - Ihar Karnei

Belarusian authorities have detained a prominent journalist who used to work for outlets including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty or RFE/RL.

Police on Monday raided the apartment of Ihar Karnei, in the capital Minsk, seized computers and phones and detained the journalist.

Karnei is being held in the Akrestina pretrial detention center and has not had access to lawyers or his family, according to his daughter, Polina.

"Dad was detained for 10 days; he is in Akrestina. The house was searched," the daughter told RFE/RL.

The Akrestina facility is known for harsh conditions and mistreating detainees, according to Belarusian human rights group Viasna.

The Belarusian Embassy in Washington declined to comment directly on the case of the jailed journalist and referred VOA to the foreign ministry.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, told VOA it is looking into Karnei’s case and that of several other journalists detained recently.

“As is usually the case, the authorities provide very little to no information on these detentions and the charges. Secrecy also surrounds the trials. This is an intentional approach of the authorities who want to keep their repressions against independent voices under a tight lid,” Gulnoza Said, who is CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, told VOA via email.

Karnei is a well-known journalist who has previously worked for outlets including RFE/RL.

The media outlet, like VOA, is an independent news network under the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

In 2021, Belarusian authorities labeled RFE/RL as an “extremist organization,” along with other independent media and civil rights groups.

Minsk has been clamping down on opposition and critical voices after the August 2020 contested elections and mass protests that followed after President Alexander Lukashenko declared victory.

Dozens of journalists were detained in the lead up and weeks that followed that election, including Karnei.

More than 30 journalists are currently detained, including two contributors for RFE/RL.

Ihar Losik was arrested in 2020 and is serving a 15-year sentence at a hard labor camp. Web editor Andrey Kuznechyk was detained in November 2021 and is serving a six-year sentence.

“This is their sacrifice for freedom of speech,” Volha Khvoin of the Belarusian Association of Journalists told VOA earlier this year, while discussing the crackdown on critical voices.

Said of CPJ noted that authorities in Belarus have “never eased up on their relentless crackdown on free media.”

“Belarus has never been free under Lukashenko’s rule but it has become one of the most closed off societies in the world since 2020 and one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists,” she said.

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