KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus’ oldest newspaper was banned on the 115th anniversary of its founding Tuesday, the latest move in the government’s relentless crackdown on independent media in the ex-Soviet nation.
The Nasha Niva newspaper was outlawed as extremist by the Central District court in Minsk, which acted upon the request of the Ministry of Information.
The ruling will expose anyone who would publish or repost Nasha Niva materials to prison terms of up to seven years.
The Belarusian authorities blocked the online newspaper in July and arrested its chief editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and journalist Andrey Skurko, who have remained in custody.
Overall, 29 Belarusian journalists are in custody, serving their sentences or awaiting trial.
Most other Nasha Niva journalists have left the country and continued to publish newspaper online, changing its domain to bypass the blocking.
“The authorities are continuing to destroy Belarus’ independent media, calling everyone extremist,” said Andrei Bastunets, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. “The situation in Belarus is worse than in Cuba or Iran and is getting close to North Korean standards.”
He noted that Nasha Niva is widely mentioned in school textbooks as part of the national heritage, adding that it wasn’t immediately clear how Belarusian authorities would handle the situation after its ban.
Nasha Niva extensively covered the massive anti-government protests that erupted last year after President Alexander Lukashenko was handed a sixth term after an August 2020 presidential vote that was denounced as rigged by the opposition and the West.
Belarusian authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
This month, tensions flared on Belarus’ border with Poland over an influx of migrants. The EU has accused Lukashenko’s government of orchestrating the migration surge on its eastern flank as a “hybrid attack” in retaliation for the bloc’s sanctions on Belarus for its crackdown on protesters.