Russia’s Crackdown on Free Speech

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HANNA LIUBAKOVA, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Well, Alexander Lukashenko’s regime never treated journalists, independent journalists, as some — somebody who is really needed in the country. But I think, since last year, a real war has been alleged against free media, free press in Belarus. Only last year, journalists were detained nearly 500 times. We were shot with rubber bullets. We were arrested on the streets. We had to wear — we had to take some T-shirt, T-shirt with us in bags, because you never know whether you would be arrested, whether you would come back to your home or you would spend your night at jail at the police department. Free media are being blocked. Two weeks ago, the largest media outlet, TUT.BY, was practically demolished. Now, currently, there are more than 30 journalists who have been arrested who remain in jail. And I would say that, also, while there are so many kind of cases of detentions, last year — last week, a studio of Belsat TV, which is the only independent TV station in Belarus, was raided as well. It’s all done to prevent information from coming out, from spreading inside the country and also outside the country, because Lukashenko is scared of this information reaching people, reaching foreigners, because they would know what’s happening in Belarus. And that’s also the key with — the case with the Roman Protasevich, who’s — who was on this plane, Ryanair flight, that was diverted and forced to land in Minsk, in the Minsk Airport. And that was done clearly to arrest the blogger, the dissonant blogger who is a really prominent one, who is really famous in Belarus, who was based in Lithuania, and who was behind this most influential Telegram channel in Belarus.

GOLODRYGA: And these brazen crackdowns have only continued, especially following that sham election last year. We should note that Lukashenko has been president of the country in office since 1994. And while all election observers would say that he had lost that election last year, in fact, his opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is living in exile now. As she is working on democracies for that country, his impulse is to crack down even further now. Hanna, you even said that you were surprised, however, by just how brazen this incident was, by bringing down this airliner to take your Roman off of that plane. What is your message to the world about what we could expect possibly next from Lukashenko, as he continues to try to hold on to power any way he can?

LIUBAKOVA: Because Lukashenko feels so backed in a corner right now, he feels threatened by his own citizens, he clearly understands that he lost support of the people, because he — well, while there are no mass protests currently, but people are still expressing their discontent in any way possible.

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100 years ago, on 31 May and 1 June, an estimated 300 Black people were killed in a rampage by a white mob in Tulsa, destroying a wealthy neighborhood known as America’s Black Wall Street.