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  • «We stand by the truth, we stand together!» A marathon of solidarity with the imprisoned journalists started in Vilnius

    Thirty-three names, thirty-three journalists behind bars, thirty-three portraits in the center of Vilnius... This number is particularly dramatic today, on World Press Freedom Day.

    In order to draw attention to the situation of the media in Belarus, Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists held a solidarity rally. This is the first action within the whole solidarity marathon, which is to be held in many countries of the world. 

    It took thir­ty-three pairs of hands

    - We stand by the truth, we stand togeth­er! — These words have soon become a man­i­fes­ta­tion of free­dom, sol­i­dar­i­ty and pro­fes­sion­al deter­mi­na­tion of Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists to con­tin­ue their work despite the rul­ing regime.

    It is quite nat­ur­al that the marathon’s slo­gan in Belaru­sian and Lithuan­ian lan­guages was chant­ed near the «First Swal­lows» mon­u­ment, which sym­bol­izes the thirst for free­dom. The birds slow­ly rise from the a wom­an’s palm, final­ly regain­ing their free­dom.

    This feel­ing is miss­ing in Belarus today. Over the past few years, jour­nal­ism has become one of the most dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sions in the coun­try. It has become com­plete­ly crim­i­nal­ized.

    Belarus ranks 157th out of 180 coun­tries in the 2023 Press Free­dom Index pub­lished by Reporters With­out Bor­ders (RSF). To com­pare, the neigh­bor­ing Lithua­nia is the 7th.

    Although the gap seems huge, Belaru­sian and Lithuan­ian jour­nal­ists joined togeth­er to hold the por­traits of Mary­na Zolata­va, Andrzei Poc­zobut, Andrei Skurko and oth­er jour­nal­ists.  It took thir­ty-three pairs of hands to rep­re­sent the ordeals that their col­leagues had to endure.

    - The mean­ing of the World Press Free­dom Day is to remind the author­i­ties of the oblig­a­tion to respect human rights and free­dom of expres­sion, above all — said the chair­man of the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists Andrei Bas­tunets. — The por­traits in our hands are the evi­dence of how free­dom of expres­sion is now treat­ed in Belarus.

    He called on media rep­re­sen­ta­tives in oth­er coun­tries to sup­port the sol­i­dar­i­ty action and keep the torch burn­ing.

    «I hope that one day the world press free­dom rank­ings demon­strate that jour­nal­ists can do their job safe­ly.»

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, abnor­mal­i­ty has become the norm in Belarus. This is per­haps most evi­dent in the media sphere.. Cur­rent­ly, 33 media rep­re­sen­ta­tives are behind bars.

    A year ago, there were 24 jour­nal­ists in deten­tion. And this is in light of the fact that some of our col­leagues have recent­ly been released.

    - Your slo­gan that jour­nal­ism is not a crime is espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant now, — says the head of the Lithuan­ian Union of Jour­nal­ists Dainius Radze­vičius. — This is an impor­tant mes­sage for the entire Euro­pean com­mu­ni­ty of jour­nal­ists, and I am glad that we are launch­ing a sol­i­dar­i­ty marathon in Vil­nius.

    He expressed the hope that one day the world press free­dom rank­ings demon­strate that jour­nal­ists can do their job safe­ly.

    Mean­while, the regime’s efforts have made Belarus a black spot on the map of press free­dom in Europe, and the most strik­ing evi­dence of this is the num­ber of por­traits in the hands of the par­tic­i­pants of the sol­i­dar­i­ty action.

    It was particularly hard for the regional media.

    Since last year, the repres­sion has inten­si­fied. Inde­pen­dent media remain a tar­get for the puni­tive bod­ies.

    - Today in Min­sk, a jour­nal­ist can be sen­tenced to up to four years in prison sim­ply for exer­cis­ing the pro­fes­sion, — says the deputy head of the BAJ Barys Haret­s­ki. — From 7 to 15 years in prison if we are talk­ing about an edi­tor, a pub­lish­er, or anoth­er promi­nent fig­ure in the media com­mu­ni­ty.  Such sen­tences have been announced in the courts recent­ly.

    It was par­tic­u­lar­ly hard for the region­al media. Just a few days ago, the web­site and social net­work accounts of the most pop­u­lar Baranavichy pub­li­ca­tion, Intex-Press, were rec­og­nized as extrem­ist.

    In ear­ly April, Info-Couri­er news­pa­per (Slut­sk)announced its clo­sure after all their texts were rec­og­nized as extrem­ist mate­ri­als. The day before, their news­room was raid­ed. Its edi­tor-in-chief Siarhei Stanke­vich and his deputy Aleh Rubche­nia were arrest­ed. They were sen­tenced to 15 days of admin­is­tra­tive arrest.

    In mid-March in Vilei­ka, the police raid­ed the house of Rehiyanal­naya Haze­ta’s chief edi­tor Ali­ak­san­dr Mant­se­vich, he was arrest­ed. He is charged with «spread­ing delib­er­ate­ly false infor­ma­tion dis­cred­it­ing Belarus and its gov­ern­ment.»

    - Barys Haret­s­ki believes: «The author­i­ties are tak­ing more and more hostages to replace those who have been released. — Very often it is not even a spe­cif­ic text or sto­ry the author­i­ties are after. The reporters are arrest­ed on charges of col­lab­o­ra­tion with the media, which has been declared an extrem­ist for­ma­tion by the author­i­ties.

    BAJ announced the «Marathon of Sol­i­dar­i­ty» cam­paign to sup­port all jouor­nal­ists behind bars. It is a reminder to the whole world that free speech is being destroyed in Belarus, and jour­nal­ists pay with their free­dom for doing their job hon­est­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

    We call on jour­nal­ists’ unions and human rights orga­ni­za­tions, as well as promi­nent pub­lic fig­ures, to join the cam­paign and advo­cate for the release of the Belaru­sian jour­nal­ists.

    BAJ calls on col­leagues around the world to sup­port the sol­i­dar­i­ty cam­paign!

    You can print por­traits of our impris­oned col­leagues, take pho­tos with them in well-known loca­tions in your city (not in Belarus) and post them on social net­works with the tags #СвабодуЖурналістам and #BecauseThe­Jour­nal­ist, and also send them to us at baj@baj.by.


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