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  • Reporters Without Borders: Belarus Is Most Dangerous Country In Europe For Journalists

    The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that Belarus (down 5 at 158th) has confirmed its status as Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists.

    “The Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region held onto its second-to-last position in the regional rankings, in part because of events in Belarus (down 5 at 158th), where journalists were subjected to an unprecedented crackdown in an attempt to cover up the massive street protests in response to the contested presidential election result,” the report reads.

    Accord­ing to the RWB experts, Belarus is one of the coun­tries that exper­i­ment­ed with a rad­i­cal treat­ment for silenc­ing jour­nal­ists – total inter­net shut­downs with the help of cyber-secu­ri­ty soft­ware. The inter­net was com­plete­ly inac­ces­si­ble for three days after the con­tro­ver­sial results of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion were announced, and then inter­mit­tent­ly in the fol­low­ing months. Accord­ing to the #KeepI­tOn coali­tion, which mon­i­tors inter­net shut­downs, the inter­net was shut down for a total of 121 days from August to Decem­ber 2020 in Belarus.

    “With cen­sor­ship, mass arrests, harass­ment and vio­lence, jour­nal­ists work­ing for inde­pen­dent media were specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed by the police fol­low­ing the fraud­u­lent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on 9 August 2020. Arrest­ed while cov­er­ing protests or to pre­vent them from cov­er­ing protests, jour­nal­ists were ini­tial­ly giv­en short “admin­is­tra­tive” jail sen­tences on spu­ri­ous grounds.

    The author­i­ties lat­er began to bring crim­i­nal charges against them that were pun­ish­able by sev­er­al years in prison, and to con­duct sham tri­als chaired by polit­i­cal­ly pli­able judges. In their deter­mi­na­tion to crush all inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism, the police also began harass­ing its defend­ers, espe­cial­ly the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists (BAJ), RSF’s local part­ner.”

    The 2021 World Press Free­dom Index shows that jour­nal­ism, the main vac­cine against dis­in­for­ma­tion, is com­plete­ly or part­ly blocked in 73% of the 180 coun­tries ranked by the organ­i­sa­tion. It notes dra­mat­ic dete­ri­o­ra­tion in people’s access to infor­ma­tion and an increase in obsta­cles to news cov­er­age. Mean­while, Nor­way is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year run­ning even though its media have com­plained of a lack of access to state-held infor­ma­tion about the pan­dem­ic. Fin­land main­tained its posi­tion in sec­ond place while Swe­den (up 1 at 3rd) recov­ered its third-place rank­ing, which it had yield­ed to Den­mark (down 1 at 4th) last year.

    This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 coun­tries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable envi­ron­ment for jour­nal­ism, as opposed to 13 coun­tries (8%) last year. The coun­try to have been stripped of its “good” clas­si­fi­ca­tion is Ger­many (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its jour­nal­ists were attacked by sup­port­ers of extrem­ist and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry believ­ers dur­ing protests against pan­dem­ic restric­tions. The press free­dom sit­u­a­tion in Ger­many is nonethe­less still clas­si­fied as “fair­ly good,” as is the case in the Unit­ed States (down 1 at 44th).

    Chi­na (177th), which con­tin­ues to take Inter­net cen­sor­ship, sur­veil­lance and pro­pa­gan­da to unprece­dent­ed lev­els, is still firm­ly anchored among the Index’s worst coun­tries, which are indi­cat­ed in black on the World Press Free­dom map. Right below Chi­na is the same trio of total­i­tar­i­an coun­tries that have his­tor­i­cal­ly occu­pied the bot­tom three places. Two are Asian: Turk­menistan (up 1 at 178th) and North Korea (up 1 at 179th). The third is African: Eritrea (down 2 at 180th). Regard­less of their con­ti­nent, these coun­tries main­tain absolute con­trol over all news and infor­ma­tion.

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