Nearly 450 press freedom violations were registered in Belarus in the past four months, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The organization describes it as an unprecedented crackdown on the media in a European country.
Belarus has confirmed its status as Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists.
“Around 370 [journalists] have been arrested since 9 August just for doing their job and eight are still being held. As the data gathered by RSF and its local partner, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), shows, the police deliberately use violence against reporters covering demonstrations with the clear aim of gagging the media and making the protests ‘disappear’,” the report reads.
According to the statistics provided by the organization:
- the number of violations of journalists’ rights quadrupled in four months;
- the number of journalists behind bars has increased more than fivefold.
Freedom of expression violations include unlawful arrests, withdrawal of accreditation, searches, internet shutdowns and censorship, as well as hampering the printing and distribution of newspapers. And if during the election campaign, 102 such violations were registered, then after the election the number soared to 449.
Of 368 arrests of journalists between 9 August and 30 November, around 80 have been sentenced to a prison term. The length of time that journalists are detained in Belarus has grown steadily since the presidential election. Sentences keep on getting harsher. In August, a journalist was sentenced to an average of five days in prison. Now the average is 13 days.
“In another sign of a much more draconian policy, at least seven journalists have been subjected to criminal prosecutions involving the possibility of sentences of several years in prison. [..] At least 62 journalists have been victims of violence, mistreatment or even torture while detained, according to the BAJ,” RSF explains.
The report contains recommendations to the Belarusian authorities and international bodies to end the repression. In particular, they recommend the European Commission and the Council of Europe to freeze all financial assistance to Belarus; the EU – to continue efforts to impose economic sanctions, the UN and OSCE – to firmly request implementation of the recommendations on freedom of expression and freedom of the media .
Recommendations for the authorities in Belarus include:
- to ensure safe working conditions for journalists and media outlets, accredit foreign journalists, stop restricting access to the internet, stop censoring and blocking news sites and any restriction on bloggers, allow independent print media to access printing and distribution services etc.
“Ruled since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko, who has managed to be reelected as president in the first round every five years, Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index,” RSF recalls.