Ihar Karnei, a prominent journalist formerly associated with the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has been detained by Belarusian authorities. The arrest took place in Minsk, and it appears to be part of a broader crackdown on dissent in the country.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported that 55-year-old Karnei was apprehended without any official explanation being provided for the arrest and subsequent search of his residence. Authorities seized his phones and computers during the raid, raising concerns over potential digital surveillance and privacy infringements.
The government’s labeling of RFE/RL as an extremist entity has resulted in stringent penalties for individuals associated with the media organization or those found distributing its content in Belarus. Violators can face up to seven years in prison, making it a perilous environment for journalists striving to report the truth amid an increasingly authoritarian regime.
Belarus’ oldest human rights organization, Viasna, has revealed that Karnei is now being held at the Akrestina pre-trial detention center, notorious for its harsh conditions and restricted access for counsel and family members. This adds to the growing concerns for the welfare and safety of journalists and activists caught in the government’s crackdown.
Since the contentious August 2020 presidential election, which saw President Alexander Lukashenko controversially secure a sixth term, Belarus has witnessed an alarming escalation in the suppression of dissent. Journalists and activists have borne the brunt of the state’s repressive measures, with over 35,000 arrests, reports of physical abuse, and the forced closure of independent media outlets and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Ihar Karnei’s decision to continue his work and stay in Belarus despite previous arrests while documenting protests is a testament to the unwavering commitment of journalists who brave grave risks to bring truth to light. Currently, he is one of 36 journalists incarcerated in the country, highlighting the precarious state of press freedom and human rights in Belarus.