The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that Belarus (down 5 at 158th) has confirmed its status as Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists.
“The Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region held onto its second-to-last position in the regional rankings, in part because of events in Belarus (down 5 at 158th), where journalists were subjected to an unprecedented crackdown in an attempt to cover up the massive street protests in response to the contested presidential election result,” the report reads.
According to the RWB experts, Belarus is one of the countries that experimented with a radical treatment for silencing journalists – total internet shutdowns with the help of cyber-security software. The internet was completely inaccessible for three days after the controversial results of the presidential election were announced, and then intermittently in the following months. According to the #KeepItOn coalition, which monitors internet shutdowns, the internet was shut down for a total of 121 days from August to December 2020 in Belarus.
“With censorship, mass arrests, harassment and violence, journalists working for independent media were specifically targeted by the police following the fraudulent presidential election on 9 August 2020. Arrested while covering protests or to prevent them from covering protests, journalists were initially given short “administrative” jail sentences on spurious grounds.
The authorities later began to bring criminal charges against them that were punishable by several years in prison, and to conduct sham trials chaired by politically pliable judges. In their determination to crush all independent journalism, the police also began harassing its defenders, especially the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), RSF’s local partner.”
The 2021 World Press Freedom Index shows that journalism, the main vaccine against disinformation, is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries ranked by the organisation. It notes dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. Meanwhile, Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third-place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year.
This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries (8%) last year. The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers during protests against pandemic restrictions. The press freedom situation in Germany is nonetheless still classified as “fairly good,” as is the case in the United States (down 1 at 44th).
China (177th), which continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to unprecedented levels, is still firmly anchored among the Index’s worst countries, which are indicated in black on the World Press Freedom map. Right below China is the same trio of totalitarian countries that have historically occupied the bottom three places. Two are Asian: Turkmenistan (up 1 at 178th) and North Korea (up 1 at 179th). The third is African: Eritrea (down 2 at 180th). Regardless of their continent, these countries maintain absolute control over all news and information.