MINSK - A journalist in Belarus may face criminal charges for an interview his media outlet published with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in another sign of the government's crackdown on press freedom.
Uladzimer Yanukevich, the chief editor of the independent Intex-press newspaper in the western city of Baranavichy, was questioned at a local police department for 4 1/2 hours over the interview, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) said on April 22.
According to the BAZh, during questioning on April 21 Yanukevich was handed two administrative charges for violating the law on the distribution of "banned" information via the media and the Internet.
Yanukevich was also warned that a criminal case may be launched against him on a charge of "calling for actions aimed at violating the national security of the Republic of Belarus." If found guilty on that charge, Yanukevich may face a lengthy prison term.
Journalist Lyudmila Stsyatsko, who interviewed Tsikhanouskaya, was also ordered to report for police questioning as a witness in the case.
The interview in question was published by Intex-press on April 14.
Yanukevich told the BAZh that he and his colleagues considered the situation they're facing over the interview with Tsikhanouskaya as "pressure on freedom of speech."
"We always take into account our readers' interests and their right to receive information ... We do not understand what words exactly in the interview violated current laws,” Yanukevich said. “The police were unable to explain that to me. It looks like it's not the content, but the fact itself that we interviewed [Tsikhanouskaya] that caused the accusations."
Tsikhanouskaya is currently in Lithuania, where she relocated for security reasons amid unprecedented rallies protesting the results of an August 2020 presidential election that handed victory to Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country with an iron fist since 1994.
Lukashenka has overseen a violent crackdown on the protesters that has seen thousands of people — including media members — detained and scores injured.
Overall, more than 1,800 criminal cases have been launched against protesters, who say the vote was rigged and that Tsikhanouskaya was the real winner.
Tsikhanouskaya was charged in absentia with impeding the work of election officials, organizing mass protests, and activities to disrupt social order. She and her supporters reject the charges and say they are politically motivated.
The European Union, Great Britain, the United States, and Canada have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus.
Last week, Belarusian lawmakers approved in the second reading several legislative amendments that severely restrict civil rights and the free flow of information amid the ongoing crackdown on protesters.