Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists have called on Belarus to establish a complaints hotline for journalists during the 2nd European Games in Minsk.
The joint appeal was timed to World Press Freedom Day.
Belarus has long had a poor record on media freedom and freedom of expression, the statement of human rights groups says. In the past two years, Belarusian authorities have further tightened regulations on online resources, carried out groundless searches of the editorial offices of several news organizations, and increased prosecutions and other harassment of freelance journalists, ultimately initiating a record number of criminal charges against journalists and bloggers.
Given these facts, “it’s likely they may harass independent journalists in the lead-up and during the European Games”, said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central director at Human Rights Watch.
“The European Olympic Committees should be ready to address this,” she believes.
Media under pressure
Despite some improvements to the human rights situation the Belarusians government had made, 2019 is on track to be one of the worst years for media freedom and freedom of expression in Belarus in the past decade, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
This includes prosecution of freelance journalists for cooperating with unregistered foreign media, arrests of journalists covering unauthorized peaceful protests, raids of media offices.
Among other cases, human rights mention the BelTA case in which 14 journalists from independent publications – TUT.BY, BelaPAN, Realt.by – were prosecuted for allegedly using passwords for the state news agency without paying the fee for authorization to access it.
The criminal charges against them were eventually replaced with administrative charges. Each was fined between 3,000 and 17,000 Belarusian rubles (US$1,420 – $8,050).
A court found Maryna Zolatava, the editor of TUT.BY, one of the publications under investigation, guilty of criminal negligence for allegedly being aware that her staff was using login data for BeITA’s paid subscription. It fined her 7,650 Belarusian rubles.
2nd European Games coming
The 2nd European Games is a multi-sport event for more than 4,000 athletes that will compete in Minsk from 21-30 June 2019.
The capital of Belarus expects up to 30,000 tourists and over 11,000 participants.
30-days visa-free entry is granted to the guests of the event from 10 June to 10 July. What’s more, Russia has allowed visa-free travel on its territory for foreigners arriving for the European Games.