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  • Media Freedom Coalition statement concerning media freedom in Belarus

    The Media Freedom Coalition expresses its deep concern about continued attacks on media freedom and the targeting of independent journalists in Belarus.

    Media freedom is an important part of democratic societies and essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

    Feb­ru­ary 05, 2021 – Ottawa, Ontario – Glob­al Affairs Cana­da

    Since the con­test­ed pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was held on August 9, author­i­ties in Belarus have restrict­ed access to infor­ma­tion and have led a bru­tal and sus­tained cam­paign to per­se­cute and harass inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists and those from for­eign media orga­ni­za­tions and pre­vent them from per­form­ing the vital role of objec­tive­ly report­ing on events and hold­ing author­i­ties to account. Access to unfet­tered infor­ma­tion is vital for cit­i­zens dur­ing protest. Inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists play a key role in inform­ing cit­i­zens on the caus­es of unrest and state respons­es.

    Some 400 jour­nal­ists and media work­ers in Belarus have faced var­i­ous forms of repres­sion in the course of the elec­tion and its after­math. On Jan­u­ary 12, 2021, media con­sul­tant Andrei Ali­ak­san­drau was arrest­ed for alleged­ly pro­vid­ing finan­cial sup­port to pro­tes­tors.  On Decem­ber 22, mem­bers of the Press Club Belarus were arrest­ed and charged on tax eva­sion. On Jan­u­ary 19, the Belaru­sian courts con­firmed their rule of Decem­ber 3 which rescind­ed the offi­cial media sta­tus of inde­pen­dent news web­site Tut.by, there­by strip­ping its jour­nal­ists of the offi­cial pro­tec­tion they have the right to expect when doing their job. Tut.by jour­nal­ist Kat­siary­na Bary­se­vich remains in cus­tody under crim­i­nal charges of the alleged dis­clo­sure of med­ical secrets of the late Raman Ban­daren­ka, who died after report­ed­ly being beat­en by secu­ri­ty forces.  On Novem­ber 15, inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist Yeka­te­ri­na Bakhval­o­va was arrest­ed and had crim­i­nal charges brought against her after film­ing police offi­cers fir­ing stun grenades dur­ing a memo­r­i­al for Raman Ban­daren­ka. Author­i­ties detained anoth­er 23 jour­nal­ists who were cov­er­ing this event.

    It is deeply trou­bling that RFE/RL jour­nal­ist Ihar Losik felt the need to go on hunger strike in order to bring atten­tion to his unjust impris­on­ment.  We are relieved Mr. Losik has halt­ed his hunger strike but remain con­cerned about his ongo­ing deten­tion. Sad­ly, this is only one exam­ple of the impact of the author­i­ties’ bla­tant con­tempt for media free­dom.

    These are not iso­lat­ed inci­dents but trag­ic exam­ples of the author­i­ties’ wider cam­paign to restrict the fun­da­men­tal free­doms of opin­ion and expres­sion, by vio­lent­ly sup­press­ing peace­ful polit­i­cal protests by oppo­si­tion sup­port­ers and demon­stra­tors. These actions have also been strong­ly con­demned by UN human rights experts and the like­mind­ed inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

    We reaf­firm our unequiv­o­cal con­dem­na­tion of the tar­get­ing, harass­ment and deten­tion of jour­nal­ists and media work­ers. We call on Belarus to pro­tect media free­dom, desist from shut­ting down Inter­net access, and respect inter­na­tion­al human rights law. We strong­ly urge Belarus to imple­ment OSCE Moscow Mech­a­nism report rec­om­men­da­tions on free­dom of expres­sion and the media. Polit­i­cal pris­on­ers must be imme­di­ate­ly released. We call on Belarus to release jour­nal­ists and oth­er media work­ers who have been arbi­trar­i­ly detained and hold account­able those respon­si­ble for attacks on jour­nal­ists and media work­ers.

    Aus­tria, Bul­gar­ia, Cana­da, Cos­ta Rica, Czech Repub­lic, Den­mark, Esto­nia, Fin­land, France, Ger­many, Greece, Ice­land, Japan, Latvia, Lithua­nia, Lux­em­bourg, Nether­lands, North Mace­do­nia, Switzer­land, Slo­va­kia, Slove­nia, Ukraine, the Unit­ed King­dom, and the Unit­ed States.

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