As the government is working on an anti-crisis plan, the authorities mount pressure on independent media
By Zmicier Kuchlej
Amid the deteriorating situation with the coronavirus and looming presidential elections, law enforcers have stepped up control over the information environment and independent media. Meanwhile, the economic authorities are working on support measures for most troubled economic sectors with the likely focus on public enterprises.
The Belarusian authorities aim to hold the presidential elections in the summer, as planned before. The CEC Head, Yarmoshyna, last week, confirmed that there were no reasons for postponing.
A part of the ruling elite appears to be using the deteriorating coronavirus situation and growing safety concerns in the top echelons of power, to mount pressure on the independent press. For instance, law enforcers have searched the editorial offices of Yezhednevnik [Daily] and detained its chief editor Satsuk, known for his journalistic investigations, including corruption schemes in public procurement in healthcare. He also criticized the authorities’ approach to fighting the coronavirus spread in Belarus. Satsuk was detained after President Lukashenka ordered to ‘deal’ with independent media covering the epidemiological situation in the country.
The state media policy on the coronavirus spread has not changed. As of March 27th, the official reports mention just under 100 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths. Such a policy has made the information environment in Belarus highly vulnerable to external and/or domestic threats and negatively affected people’s confidence in public institutions.
The government has announced a package of anti-crisis measures to become available soon, which would focus on supporting most affected economic sectors due to the world recession. However, so far, neither the measures nor the size of assistance has been disclosed. Unprofitable public enterprises are likely to successfully lobby for additional public funds, which may leave SMEs with little if any support.
All in all, the authorities are egging on independent journalists and bloggers to enhance self-censorship amid growing politicization in society in the face of economic downturn and before the presidential elections.