Belarusian authorities have stopped the European news network Euronews from broadcasting inside the country amid a campaign to muzzle independent media and journalists as part of the government's crackdown on dissent following a disputed presidential election that returned strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka to power.
The Information Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the right given to Euronews — a 24-hour television channel covering world news in 12 language editions, including Russian — to distribute its programs in Belarus had expired.
It added that Russia's Pobeda (Victory) channel focusing on World War II had commenced broadcasting in Euronews's place. In recent years, Russia has been promoting the victory of the Soviet Union and allies over Nazi Germany in 1945 in its state propaganda against the West.
A ministry spokeswoman was quoted by the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti as saying that Euronews's license had not been renewed because the channel violated legislation by running advertisements in English, instead of Russian or Belarusian.
Euronews, which is headquartered in the French city of Lyon, said that as of late on April 12, it had yet to receive official notification of the ban, but "deeply" regretted it.
"We have not been notified of this decision nor of the reasons for it, and learned of it this morning through the press," it said in a statement.
"Euronews values freedom of the press and will do its utmost to ensure that its audiences in Belarus can very soon again have access, on television, to Euronews' hallmark impartial and quality journalism. In the meantime, these audiences will be able to continue following us on our digital platforms,” it added.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken the streets, almost weekly, since August 2020 when Lukashenka claimed reelection in a vote that opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters called fraudulent.
The demonstrators are demanding that Lukashenka leave and new elections be held, but Belarus's strongman has been defiant. Security officials have arrested thousands and forced Tsikhanouskaya and other top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
Meanwhile, Barys Haretski, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, says the government has embarked on the largest crackdown on journalists and rights activists Europe has ever seen.
"Since last summer, the authorities have systematically created, let us say, 'a Great Wall of China' around Belarusian society. They have repressed journalists and shut down media outlets," said Haretski.
Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994, and other top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the country.
Minsk-based media expert Paulyuk Bykouski said the move to ban Euronews cuts off a main point of access to fair and unfiltered news for Belarusians, who "do not have access to such information projects as CNN, Fox News, and any other channels that could be a possible alternative to what is being broadcast by Belarusian state media and Russian television channels."