KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Wednesday blocked access to another news site, the latest in a series of steps restricting independent media in the country after it was shaken by a wave of anti-government protests.
The Belarusian Ministry of Information blocked access to the Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus website, the Belarusian subsidiary of a popular Russian newspaper of the same name. The ministry didn’t provide any reasons for the decision to block the popular website, which is visited by some 20,000 users daily.
The access to it was restricted several hours after it ran a story about an alleged shootout in an apartment in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, during which two people — an opposition supporter and a KGB officer — were killed. The news outlet published a comment from the opposition supporter’s friend, who described him a positive light.
Belarusian authorities reported the incident on Tuesday night, alleging that “an especially dangerous criminal” opened fire on security officers after they showed up at his apartment looking for “individuals involved in terrorist activities.” Authorities said one of the KGB officers was killed and the perpetrator was killed by “retaliatory fire.”
Footage aired by Belarusian state TV channels showed men in plainclothes, trying to break into an apartment.
The authorities haven’t revealed the name of the man that allegedly shot at 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, supposedly, lived in the apartment.”
Belarus’ authorities often referred to protesters at anti-government demonstrations last year as “extremists” and “terrorists.” The huge protests came after election officials gave authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in the August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and the West have denounced as a sham.
Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and badly beating thousands of them.
Franak Viacorka, an adviser to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, identified the man killed as opposition supporter Andrei Zeltser, 32-year-old employee of one of the biggest IT companies in Belarus. Tsikhanouskaya called his death “a tragedy” in a statement Wednesday.
The chief editor of Komsomolskaya Pravda, Vladimir Sungorkin, said Wednesday that access to its Belarusian website was blocked after it ran a short story containing “four sentences” from the man’s classmate “about the fact that he was good guy when they studied together, always stood up for the truth.” Sungorkin added that it has become “very difficult” for journalists to work in Belarus.
After the disputed presidential election last year, authorities in Belarus have shut down the biggest independent media outlets, blocked access to popular news sites and targeted journalists with raids and detentions. A total of 27 journalists in Belarus are currently behind bars, either already convicted and sentenced or awaiting trials.
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