WASHINGTON , DC – Veteran Belarus Service journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich was officially warned by the Minsk municipal prosecutor’s office about violating Belarus’ “Law on Mass Media.” Any subsequent warning could result in Hruzdzilovich being stripped of his official accreditation to work as a journalist in Belarus.
Hruzdzilovich was cited by the prosecutor’s office for posting a “critical article” and video report to the service’s website, known locally as Radio Svaboda, in which he investigated whether the Minsk Metro subway system was prepared to stop a future attack similar to the April 11, 2011 bombing that killed 15 people and injured hundreds. To test its security, Hruzdzilovich reported that twice he entered the subway system with a duffel bag filled with metal objects, but was stopped and checked by Minsk Metro security personnel only once and his bag was never physically opened.
Hruzdzilovich was also cited for his 2012 book published by RFE/RL, “Who Blew Up the Minsk Metro?“, which, the warning says, “questions the objectivity of the official results of the criminal investigation” into the Minsk Metro blast, and of the Belarus justice system in general. The case culminated in the trial and execution in March 2012 of two young men found guilty of engineering the blast.
Hruzdzilovich is convinced the warning was issued to intimidate him, stating, “This government doesn’t need people who want to verify or question information. [The official conducting the inquiry said to me] ‘So you wrote a book about the explosion in the metro. Why are you questioning the conclusions of the investigation?’ So the act of simply questioning something is [perceived as] some sort of crime.”
One of only nine RFE/RL reporters fully accredited by Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work in the country, Hruzdzilovich has frequently been harassed and detained by police while covering stories. Most recently, he was detained by police on April 19 after taking pictures and videotaping a public event in front of the Minsk parliament. It followed a Belarusian KGB complaint in 2012 that he was “too aggressive” in taking video and photos.
In its 2013 press survey released last week, Freedom House reaffirmed its ranking of Belarus as “Not Free” and placed it 5th on a list of “The 10 Worst Countries for Journalists.” Hruzdzilovich discusses the pressures he and other journalists face in Belarus in an RFE/RL video produced to mark World Press Freedom Day 2013.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, and television — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the republics of Central Asia. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).