Belarusian authorities have withdrawn accreditations of some Belarusian reporters and deported several foreign journalists.
The affected journalists were covering anti-government protests that have faulted the August 9 presidential election in which President Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, claimed a landslide victory.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, about 17 journalists have been stripped of their accreditations issued to them by the foreign ministry.
Two journalists from BBC one of whom was Tatyana Melnichuk, four Radio Liberty journalists, and Reuters’ photographer and journalist are among those whose accreditations had been revoked.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism.
“We call upon the Belarusian authorities to revoke this decision and allow our journalists to continue doing their jobs,” BBC said in a tweet.
“We believe it is vital for the people of Belarus to have access to impartial, independent information about events in their country,” it added.
Speaking about her experience, Tatyana Melnichuk said, “The Belarusian foreign ministry called me and informed me that my accreditation and that of one of my colleagues as BBC correspondents had been cancelled. They demanded that I return my card.”
According to the Associated Press news agency, its journalists had had their press credentials revoked by the Belarusian government while two Moscow-based journalists who were covering the recent protests in Belarus were deported on Saturday.
While condemning the attack on press freedom, Lauren Easto, the news agency’s director of media relations, said, “The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus.
AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world.”
Meanwhile, President Lukashenko had earlier threatened at a government meeting held on July 23 that foreign journalists would be expelled because he believed they were responsible for inciting protests against him even before the election.
Anatoly Glaz, Belarusian spokesperson, while defending the government decision, said the move was made on the recommendations of the nation’s anti-terrorism unit.
West German Broadcasting (WDR) program director, Jörg Schönenborn, whose Russian employees were banned from Belarus for five years, said the treatment was absolutely unacceptable.
“This shows again that independent reporting in Belarus is becoming more and more difficult and almost impossible,” he said.
“As a public service broadcaster, however, we will not be intimidated and will do everything in our power to ensure that our journalists can continue to report critically and independently on the events, protests and demonstrations in Belarus.”
Dominic Raab, the Secretary of State condemned the act in a tweet on Saturday.
“I condemn these clear attacks on media freedom #defendmediafreedom,” he tweeted.
On Thursday, about 50 reporters were arrested and taken into custody. Most of them were later released, except for four correspondents including Alexander Vasukovich and Katsiaryna Andreyeva based in Minsk who were detained overnight.
They were charged with inciting and organizing illegal protests and were made to appear in court on Friday.
The protests which have drawn about 200, 000 people is said to have been the largest since Lukashenko’s 26 years in office.
The protests have been met with crackdown by the police and about three people have died with several hundreds wounded while about 7,000 people have been detained.
In response to the situation, the European Union has rejected the election result and urged President Lukashenko to have a constructive dialogue with the opposition.