Situation for Independent Journalists Reaches New Low in Belarus

Protests in Belarus, March 2018. Photo: RFE/RL.

Belarusian journalists Volha Czajczyc and Andrei Kozel were recently prosecuted and threatened with heavy fines and loss of property because of their journalistic activities and cooperation with the independent TV channel Belsat. Civil Rights Defenders urges Belarus to ensure the safety of Volha Czajczyc, Andrei Kozel and all other independent journalists in the country.

Belarusian authorities continue to perceive independent journalists as a threat to democracy, and Volha and Andrei have been targeted with no less than 12 fines this year. The authorities have furthermore threatened to take Andrei to jail if he fails to pay his fines within two weeks.

Independent journalists are being harassed in many parts of the world. Often, authorities fear their critical voices, and use repressive methods to prevent them from conducting their work. In Belarus, the trend has moved away from physical attacks against the independent journalists, and the authorities have instead started using fines as another efficient tool. Given the low average wages in the country, only 340 Euro per month, there is a very little chance that journalists are able to pay the repeated fines.

“Reaching new heights in 2018, independent journalists have received a large number of fines for cooperating with foreign media. Persecuting journalists for their work with foreign media violates both the international obligations of Belarus – in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – and national legislation,” said Andrei Bastunets, Chairperson of the Belarusian Association for Journalists.

The exceedingly high fines are used along with new, increasingly repressive media legislation targeting the independent media. The combination has turned out to be an efficient tool for the authorities to censor the independent media. New amendments presented this year has further tightened the state control over the media.

“Despite the announced ‘liberalisation’ and dialogue with European structures, the situation in the media sector in Belarus is only getting worse. In addition to the fines, the state has introduced new media legislation that toughens their control over the information space, including the Internet,” said Andrei Bastunets.

Independent journalists are some of the few remaining watchdogs in the country. Their work is vital if Belarus is to become a democratic country where freedom of expression and other civil and political rights are respected. Civil Rights Defenders demands that Sweden and the EU put pressure on Belarus to respect the right to freedom of expression, and to stop persecuting journalists.

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