Thursday, October 28, 2021

Belarus blocks news site after disgruntled, KGB officer’s death

Belarusian authorities on Wednesday blocked access to another news site, the latest in a series of moves restricting free media in the country after being shaken by a wave of anti-government protests.

The Belarusian Ministry of Information has blocked access to Komsomolskaya Pravda In Belarus website, a Belarusian subsidiary of a popular Russian newspaper of the same name. The ministry did not give any reason for the decision to block the popular website, which is visited by around 20,000 users daily.

Its access was restricted several hours after a story ran about an alleged shooting at an apartment in Belarus’ capital Minsk, during which two people – an opposition supporter and a KGB officer – were killed. The news outlet published a comment from a friend of an opposition supporter, which she described in a positive light.

Belarusian authorities reported the incident on Tuesday night, alleging that “a particularly dangerous criminal” opened fire on security officers when they appeared in their apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities”. Officials said a KGB officer was killed and the perpetrator was killed in “counter-firing”.

Footage broadcast by Belarusian state TV channels showed men in plain clothes trying to break into an apartment.

Authorities did not reveal the name of the man who allegedly shot the security officers, but said his wife, who was in the apartment at the time, was arrested.

State news agency Belta reported that “members of an extremist group with ties to the opposition were believed to be living in the apartment.”

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Belarus officials often referred to protesters at anti-government protests last year as “extremists” and “terrorists”. Massive protests erupted after election officials granted authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in the August 2020 presidential election, which the opposition and the West called a sham.

Lukashenko’s government violently cracked down on the protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and brutally beating thousands of them.

Franck Viakorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Sichanovskaya, identified the man killed as opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser, a 32-year-old employee of one of Belarus’s largest IT companies. Sikhanoushskaya called her death “a tragedy” in a statement on Wednesday.

chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vladimir Sungorkin said on Wednesday that access to his Belarusian website was blocked after he ran a “four sentence” short story from a classmate of the man about the fact that he was a nice guy when they were together. Used to study, always stood up for the truth.” Sungorkin said it has become “very difficult” for journalists to work in Belarus.

Following the controversial presidential election last year, authorities in Belarus have shut down the largest independent media outlets, blocked access to popular news sites and targeted raids and detained journalists.

A total of 27 journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus, either already convicted and sentenced or awaiting trial.

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