Belarus Journalists Say Country's Situation Close to North Korea's After Paper Ban

The oldest newspaper in Belarus was banned from publishing its newspaper version after its online site was blocked.

According to the Associated Press, The Nasha Niva was banned from publication on its 115th anniversary on Tuesday after being labeled as extremists. Critics of the current Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, have compared it to North Korea.

"The authorities are continuing to destroy Belarus' independent media, calling everyone extremist," said Belarusian Association of Journalists head Andrei Bastunets. "The situation in Belarus is worse than in Cuba or Iran and is getting close to North Korean standards."

Nasha Niva, despite being mentioned as part of Belarus's national heritage in school textbooks, covered anti-government protests in the country in 2020 after Lukashenko was given a sixth term in office. Critics, both in Belarus and the West, alleged that the August 2020 election was rigged in his favor. During the protests, more than 35,000 people were arrested.

This ban was the latest move against the newspaper from the Belarusian government. Authorities had blocked its online newspaper from updating in July, arresting its chief editor Yahor Martsinovich and journalist Andrei Skurko. The two, along with 27 other Belarusian journalists including blogger Roman Protasevich, remain in custody.

Journalists are not the only people that Belarus is accused of unlawfully arresting. Newsweek previously reported that 562 political prisoners are being kept in the country, according to the Viasna Human Rights Center. Many of these prisoners are "civil society activists and human rights defenders," with some already being convicted and sentenced.

Despite the bans, Nasha Niva is currently being kept alive by former employees. The majority have fled the country and continue to update the website with news. They are able to bypass the blocking by regularly changing its domain.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below:

Belarus Pre
On its 115 anniversary, The Nasha Niva was banned from publication by the Belarus government. Belarusians living in Poland and Poles supporting them hold up paper planes during a demonstration in front of the European Commission office in Warsaw on May 24 demanding freedom for Belarus opposition activist Roman Protasevich a day after a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius carrying the dissident journalist was diverted while in Belarusian airspace. Photo by Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Nasha Niva 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.

It wasn't immediately clear how Belarusian authorities would handle the situation after its ban.

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.

Belarus Protest
Nasha Niva was outlawed as extremist by the Central District Court in Minsk. In this Sunday, August 9, 2020 file photo, a protester stands with an old Belarusian national flag as police use a water cannon against demonstrators after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus. AP Photo, file