Independent Belarusian journalists who had to flee their country to avoid persecution and now reside in Batumi, Georgia, organized a solidarity event in support of their colleagues who are incarcerated in Belarus on political grounds. After the action, they had a meeting with the Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists to discuss journalistic work and life in Georgia.
To express support for their fellow journalists staying behind bars, Belarusian media gathered at Europe Square in Batumi and raised their portraits.
BAJ reports that 36 journalists and media workers are incarcerated as of July 27.
At a meeting held after the solidarity action in the Media Hub created by Belarusians, Andrei Bastunets, the Chairman of BAJ, noted that the actual number of incarcerated media workers in Belarus is higher, as some people chose not to report on their detentions.
The meeting participants also discussed the peculiarities and challenges of working and living in Georgia. Several obstacles were mentioned. The participants identified financial instability in emigration as the primary concern. Prices have risen 2-3 times over the last year since the beginning of the full-scale war in Ukraine, and salaries in the media industry are not high.
The journalists observed that finding work while living abroad is problematic. Job openings in Belarusian media are scarce, and it is nearly impossible to secure a position in the Georgian media.
The Belarusian community in Georgia is highly concerned about the regularization of their stay in the country.
Following the recent incident where Georgia denied entry to a Belarusian activist, Yauhen Hatsak, the leader of the Belarusian diaspora in Adjaria, without providing any explanation, several Belarusian journalists chose to depart from Georgia.
The remaining journalists complain about the challenges in acquiring residence permits and cite the almost insurmountable barriers to gaining Georgian citizenship. In general, Belarusian journalists remark on the lack of interest of the Georgian authorities towards Belarusians and their assimilation into Georgian society.
Aside from that, they highlighted challenges with children’s education, medical insurance, and obtaining an EU visa while residing in Georgia. Journalists also reported problems in replacing their Belarusian passports while abroad. There were also not enough educational courses, events, and integration meetings.
Andrei Bastunets promised to analyze all the raised problems and consider which ones BAJ could aid in solving. However, not all the problems can be solved because they are caused by the political situation and life in exile. The BAJ chairman stated that these problems are typical for most countries that Belarusian media had to relocate to.
“We will continue to face these issues as long as we are in exile,” Andrei Bastunets explained. “We aim to persuade the international community and donor organizations to remember Belarus and Belarusian media workers living in exile abroad. Reporters in Lithuania and Poland are experiencing comparable difficulties. Some problems are easier to resolve than others. It is challenging to influence governments. However, we can collaborate with human rights groups, including those in Georgia.”
The marathon of solidarity with the journalists of Belarusian political prisoners was launched on May 3 in Vilnius by a joint action of the BAJ and the Lithuanian Union of Journalists.
Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, and other countries have already joined the call.
BAJ calls on journalists around the world to support the solidarity action! You can print portraits of imprisoned Belarusian media workers, take pictures with them in outstanding places in your city (not in Belarus) and post them on social media using the hashtags #СвабодуЖурналістам and #BecauseTheJournalist. Don’t forget to send them to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.