The International Press Institute (IPI) and other organizations that are part of the global network of media NGOs have launched a call to the international community not to lose sight of the “severity of the regime’s brutal clampdown” on press freedom in Belarus, two years after the latest presidential election and the repressions that followed. the IPI calls the 2020 election “fraudulent” and reaffirms its support for persecuted Belarusian journalists.
“Since the election on August 9, 2020, freedom of expression and independent journalism in Belarus have suffered an unprecedented campaign of repression and state terror at the hands of law enforcement authorities and the government of Kremlin ally Alexander Lukashenko,” IPI writes.
According to IPI, 30 journalists and media workers remain behind bars in detention centers and penal colonies on manufactured or politically motivated charges. Also, hundreds of journalists have fled the country, and dozens of independent newsrooms have been shut down.
According to the organization, in the last two years, more than 500 arrest and detentions of journalists have been made by police and security forces. IPI reports that journalists who criticize the government continue to face intimidation, fines, criminal charges and the threat of mistreatment or torture in prison.
“After the passing of draconian amendments to the criminal code, which handed state authorities greater powers to regulate media, many of the country’s leading independent newspapers and media outlets have also been censored, labelled as ‘extremist formations’ and systematically shut down,” IPI says.
At the same time, dozens of Belarusian and foreign news websites have also been blocked within the country for publishing “extremist” materials, and journalists referencing or even liking those Facebook pages have been jailed.
IPI noted that journalists’ rights and human rights organizations, which support their colleagues, also suffered. This includes the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which faced administrative pressure and was shut down by the courts. According to some estimates, about 400 media professionals have left the country for fear of being persecuted.
In this context, IPI expresses its solidarity with courageous independent journalists from Belarus, who continue to work in the country and in exile despite severe pressure. According to them, Belarus continues to be one of the biggest jailors of journalists in the world. In this context, IPI reminded of one of the most recent cases, when journalist Iryna Slaunikava, vice president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, was sentenced to five years in a penal colony on politically motivated charges after a closed trial.
IPI urges the international community and organizations like the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe not to lose sight of the government’s attack on journalistic freedoms and to demand that all media professionals held behind bars are released immediately.