21 February 2019, Thursday, 3:40
Appeal of the BPR Rada

Natallia Radzina: Journalista Should Stand Firmly Behind Each Other

Only in this way we can survive.

The information about Lukashenka's health problems can be one of the reasons for the persecution of independent journalists and editorial staff. The Charter97.org editor-in-chief Natallia Radzina does not exclude this speaking about it in an interview to Radio Racyja.

We remind, on the night of July 30 the information that Lukashenka had a stroke appeared in the Nezyagar's telegram-channel. This news appeared at the same time with the news that the planned visit of the Belarusian ruler to Homel failed. But after a few days Lukashenka appeared on TV screens, his press secretary denied information about the stroke.

Against the backdrop of prosecution and detention of independent journalists, Natallia Radzina calls for general solidarity. The journalist also believes that our country should not count on the help of the European Union, which, in her opinion, acts cynical about human rights violations in Belarus.

– What were your first thoughts when you learned that police came to search the tut.by and BelaPAN offices and that they were cordoned by OMON?

– The first emotions were indignation, compassion, a desire to help somehow. I know from my own experience how hard it is, when you are arrested, when the police searches the editorial offices and home – this is certainly very unpleasant. Immediately it was clear that they were starting to twist the nuts even more, another attack on independent journalism was taking place. It seems that this time the authorities decided to have everyone on a string.

Now even moderate media are being pursued, as neither tut.by nor BelaPAN can be called opposition. As for the independence of tut.by, there are also a lot of questions, since it is clear that this is a large business, which has existed for more than 20 years in a dictatorial country. Its journalists have never been persecuted like the employees of Charter-97, the Belsat TV channel, Radio Racyja, independent newspapers were massively closed in the country.

It comes off as a total mopping-up of the information field of Belarus, which has been going on for 25 years, is being completed. If we take this year, it actually started with blocking the Charter-97 site. I was then warning that if we do not show solidarity, both internationally and inside Belarus, these repressions will continue. And they did happen, as they adopted amendments to the law on mass media, which increased censorship on the Internet, criminal cases were initiated against independent bloggers, and the persecution of Belsat TV and Radio Racyja journalists, who are now forced to work from Poland, started. Now we see an attempt to destroy BelaPAN and tut.by.

- They express various ideas about what has become the underlying cause. There is an opinion that it might be based on some information about the alleged stroke of Lukashenka. Blogger Yauhen Lipkovich has expressed the opinion that, perhaps, the they are simply searching the sources of information in official structures who provide information to journalists. What is actually going on?

- In fact, the version of the stroke has legs. Obviously, Lukashenka has serious health problems, and this could be a stroke or an ischemic attack.

The information leaked and was published by all the Belarusian, Russian, foreign media, that caused a reaction among the Belarusians. It was obvious that our people were happy. That is, a lot of people believed that something they had been waiting for had finally come true. Lukashenka is not popular with the people today, moreover, people hate him. Therefore, of course, this could be a regime's response to show who runs the house.

As it usually happens, the journalists are under attack. People of our profession suffer, probably, in the first place, next to the democratic opposition.

There may be some other options. It seems to me that the attack may be connected with the mopping up of the information field of Belarus before some kind of Russian aggression - the Russian occupation. This option can not be ruled out either.

The degree of freedom of certain Belarusian non-state media can be assessed in different ways. But all the media, where they come with searches, whose journalists were searched, they are Belarusian media, committed to the positions of the Belarusian independent state.

The mopping up the information space is very beneficial to Russia, as we see that Belarusians are watching Russian television today, listening to Russian radio stations with Russian news. After the blocking of Charter-97, Belarusian users switched to the Russian segment of the Internet. Now, after the mopping up of the remaining pro-Belarusian non-state media, which they want to transform into one big BelTA, more and more people, unfortunately, will turn to information propaganda of the Russian media.

- In recent years, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Uladzimir Makei have been very actively promoting the interests of Belarus in the European Union in order to get the relationships back on track. It is reported that there is some success, there is some warming, some invitations have already been received. What can you say, to what extent one's left hand does not know what one's right hand is doing? Now we see that the EU representatives have visited the BelaPAN office, the EU has called to release the journalists. Doesn't it contradict the policy of establishing relations with the EU?

- Yes, but there is no any special policy of establishing warm relations. When Charter97.org was blocked, the EU countries' governments and the largest international human rights organizations also supported us. A resolution was adopted by the European Parliament, which demanded to unblock the site immediately, but the Belarusian authorities didn't respond. The point is: Makei travels to the West with only one goal - to get money from the European Union.

The European Union, in its turn, aims at exclusively trade and economic goals in Belarus. We see that today West turns a blind eye to violations of human rights in Belarus. It doesn't go further than statements and visits . The politicians are, unfortunately, led by the nose by businessmen and have already turned into salespeople. Belarus is profitable for them, it allows to avoid sanctions. This is unscrupulous, cynical, strategic stupidity and blindness.

- Coming back to what is happening now with our independent media, in editorial offices, although it is quite ungrateful to predict, how will the events develop?

- It is clear that it will not happen as in 2010, when we all got into prison and were charged under the article "Organization of mass riots," which stipulates 15 years of imprisonment. I think that now all the media are being transformed into one big BelTA, so that they do not allow themselves even relatively bold stuff on social issues. Most likely, this is an attempt to keep these media at bay , as well as an attempt to recruit the journalists.

I know it from my own experience, from the experience of the people who were arrested in 2010. When a journalist is put in prison he is blakemailed and intimidated to sign a certain paper. I remember how I was threatened. The head of KGB prison, Arlou, simply said that I would get out of prison not earlier than in five years, unless I signed that paper testifying against politicians. He threatened me that I would not have children, that my mother would die and would not live to see me out of prison. It was very difficult to make the decision. In tears I refused, because even at large it would be difficult to live with this.

Recently there was an article in the Washington Post where Vitaly Zybliuk, the former Euroradio editor, said that independent media in Belarus have KGB curators, with whom the editors must meet and communicate.

This is absurdity, this is direct censorship. This means that the KGB actually controls the media and determines what kind of issues it can or cannot publish. It's a terrible thing. After all, I have been hearing this from Belarusian editors in private conversations for a very long time, and I do not know why journalists don't discuss this topic today. I understand that this is dangerous, but let's discuss it openly. I'm not the only one who will say this, and not only Dzmitry Bandarenka, the coordinator of the civil campaign European Belarus, who said this in 2012 and everyone attacked him as if for telling lies. But it's true! And this is a serious problem.

– What would you want to say to the journalistic community?

– We all need solidarity. I remember the experience when the Charter-97 was blocked. People and journalists showed a lot of solidarity with us. And we are grateful to Radio Racyja for being always in solidarity with us. But there were people who were happy, because the competitor left the market. If the journalistic community showed more solidary, then the authorities would be afraid to touch the journalists next time. Therefore, it is very important that the journalists remembered this experience today and stood firmly behind each other. Only in this way we can survive.