RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
MINSK -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says journalists who call for "mass disturbances" as a presidential election approaches should be expelled from the country.
Speaking at a government gathering in Minsk, on July 23, Lukashenka attacked both Russian and Western media outlets for their coverage of developments in Belarus saying they "don't observe our country's laws."
“The BBC, [Radio] Liberty, [Radio] Free Europe, and so on... I am not just talking how biased they are, they are calling for mass disturbances! How are you standing for this? It was you who accredited them," Lukashenka said addressing Foreign Minister Uladzimer Makey.
"No need to wait until the election campaign is over. Expel them out of here, if they do not follow our laws, calling people for Maidans," Lukashenka said, referring to pro-European protests known as Euromaidan in neighboring Ukraine that toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
RFE/RL Acting President Daisy Sindelar called Lukashenka's accusation that the U.S. news agency is agitating for people to riot "outrageous" and "a possible pretext" for shutting down the company's operation.
"RFE/RL is doing nothing of the sort -- to the contrary, our own journalists have themselves been the victims of unjustified police detentions and violence in recent days for simply doing their jobs," Sindelar said.
'Demonize And Distort'
Sindelar said Lukashenka's accusation seeks to "demonize and distort the role of the independent media" in Belarus as it reports on a wide range of important developments ahead of the August 9 presidential election.
"We have every intention of continuing our important work for the people of Belarus, and condemn officials' use of reckless rhetoric and threats that put our journalists at risk," she said.
The August 9 election comes as Lukashenka faces mounting public opposition after 26 years in power.
Hundreds of people, including activists and bloggers have been arrested as the government has cracked down hard on rallies and demonstrations supporting opposition candidates, who were not registered by election officials.
Western governments and international institutions, including the United Nations, have called on Lukashenka's government to stop the crackdown.
Last month, Belarusian authorities detained at least 14 journalists for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests, and in May, five journalists covering opposition candidates were detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
On June 25, Komsomolskaya Pravda's chief editor Vladimir Sungorkin said in a radio program that the outcome of the presidential election in Belarus was unpredictable as Lukashenka "is making one mistake after another" and would rely on the KGB to win the poll.
Reporters Without Borders has called on the authorities to "stop this escalation of the repression of the fundamental freedom to express oneself and to inform.”
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