13 August 2020, Thursday, 14:04
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KGB Puts Pressure On Radio Svaboda Journalists

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KGB Puts Pressure On Radio Svaboda Journalists
IHAR ILJASH
PHOTO: FACEBOOK

The authorities are threatening to deprive the radio station in Minsk of their accreditation.

Former journalist of the Belarusian service of Radio Svaboda Ihar Iljash told about this on his Facebook page. We cite the journalist's post in full:

- I was not fully convinced that this story should be told now. But a few days before we announced the publication of the book "Belarusian Donbas," head of RFE/RL Daisy Sindelar said that the Belarusian Information Minister had threatened the head of Radio Svaboda that he would be deprived of the accreditation because of the way the Belarusian service was covering the protests. Then there was a "shake-down" from Karayeu, the arrest of Ihar Losik and rumors about depriving the whole bureau of its accreditation. Those events dispelled my last doubts. All the more so because the story I'm going to tell now is not just about pressure on the editorial office of the independent media, but also about personal pressure on me. And after the book is published, the reason for this pressure becomes relevant again.

On January 4, 2017, my interview with Sergei Trofimov, an activist of "LDPR", was published on the website of the Belarusian service of Radio Svaboda. Two days later I was informed by my colleagues in the editorial office: head of the Minsk Bureau of RS Valiantsin Zhdanko was summoned to the KGB immediately after the material was published. Chekists had already raised grievances with the RS over my materials about the Belarusian fighters - those articles convincingly proved that the former pro-Russian fighters were returning to the country without any hindrance and under the passive eye of the special services. However, after an interview with Trofimov, where the militant talked about his relations with the KGB, the Chekists apparently went mad. Now the editors were openly threatened - it was about the existence of the entire Minsk bureau.

As a result, Zhdanko imposed an unofficial ban on articles about the participation of Belarusian citizens in the war in eastern Ukraine. Soon the special status of the Donbas theme was confirmed at the highest level. On January 9, I was invited to Zhdanko's office - the director of the Belarusian service of Radio Svaboda, Aliaksandr Lukashuk, who was in Prague at that time, wanted to talk to me on speakerphone. Lukashuk ordered that from now on all the materials one way or another related to the Ukrainian topics should be coordinated with the Prague editorial office and should not be published without his permission (although, in fact, for a while the veto was imposed on all materials that could cause the Chekists' discontent). In the case of summoning for questioning by the KGB, they advised me to behave calmly, not to cheat, but also not to talk too much.

The summons for interrogation did not follow, but three days later, on January 12, the editorial board handed me a note from the KGB. This note was a draft of the publication, which was to appear on the Radio Svaboda website by order of the KGB. On two A4 sheets, the key theses, which should have been necessarily reflected in the material (the photo of the document is in the attached file), were underlined with a pen.

The problem was not in the KGB demand to publish its version of the events, but in forcing to do it without any critical analysis. It was proposed to Radio Svaboda not just to acquit on all charges the State Security Committee and the "LPR" militant, but to declare Trofimov crazy. And the KGB censor was insisting on using specific formulations. The article should have necessarily stated that RS had recieved this information from a "source in the law enforcement agencies." Though, it was more correct and honest to write "as reported by the KGB". There was some logic in it: the KGB wanted to shrug off the story with Trofimov completely, and the journalists themselves had to refute the militant's statements.

The RS leadership took an unambiguous position: to agree completely with the KGB's demands. I was entrusted to write an article on the basis of the KGB's draft. My colleagues were explaining: it was essential to save the editorial office, it was a necessary concession. As a result, on January 12, an article titled "LPR Ex-fighter Trofimov Sent for Psychiatric Examination" was published. Of course, not a word was said about the fact that the Ukrainian Prosecutor`s Office simultaneously launched an investigation against the militant. At the same time, a detailed commentary on my interview with the former pro-Russian fighter was posted on the free-for-all websites created by the Chekists. The article was called an "uncommon made-up story," which "discredits both journalism in general and Radio Svaboda in particular." The text, adhering to the best traditions of anonymous libel, was full of stock phrases and insults: "yellow-press", "talentless and frankly biased" journalist, "moral and ethical downfall of certain media", "gotcha journalism", etc.

The set of KGB white washing measures has been completed here. However, the pressure on RS continued. The Committee was apparently determined to discourage journalists from taking any interest in its dubious combinations. As my colleagues told me, they continued to summon Valiantsin Zhdanko to the KGB conversations, where they kept reminding about my materials on Donbas. It was mentioned for some reason that at the end of December 2016, when I went to see Trofimov in Vitsebsk, I was being watched by the external surveillance. And during one of the meetings, the Chekist told Zhdanko an absolutely amazing story: they recently caught "two ATO fighters" on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, who had Ihar Iljash's address and whith whom they were allegedly planning to "get over". The story about the "two ATO fighters" looked fantastic, but I took such a message (especially along with stories about the external surveillance) as a veiled threat from the KGB and an attempt to intimidate me.

In late February 2017, I severed all ties with the Minsk bureau of Radio Svaboda. However, almost two months later my materials backfired on the editorial board again. This time the pressure came from the Foreign Ministry. Apparently one of the heroes of my articles - former "fighter" Radyjon Kurhuzau - complained to the authorities about RS because of his interview of October 26, 2016. The militant claimed that he had not given his consent to the publication of the material, and I had taken the interview by deception. All this was a blatant lie - in fact, from the very beginning Kurhuzau knew that the interview would be published by Radio Svaboda, and later, when he saw the text, he made no claims. It is clear that the KGB worked with the militant, and such a complaint was their initiative. The RS management was forced to back off as well: six months after the publication, Kurhuzau's interview was removed from the RS website, here is the RS's blank page, and in this material there is even an internal hyperlink to the blank page. The reprint of my and Katsia's investigation into illegal trade of Belarusian enterprises with DPR and LPR groups was found on the site for even less time. The material was removed on July 24, 2017, after a couple of hours since it appeared.

All this is the most vivid example of the KGB pressure on nongovernmental media. I am sure that it is not right to create a culture of hushing-up the arbitrariness of the authorities - in this sense I can only welcome Mrs. Daisy Sindelar's recent statement. However, I am now talking about the threats of the KGB for quite practical reasons. Katya and I have written the book "Belarusian Donbas" and it is released in the midst of political repression in Belarus. Therefore, for me, the publication of this story is a kind of insurance against provocations in the format of "two ATO fighters". It's not that safe, of course, but at least it's something.