During the election and post-election period, the Belarusian authorities have intensified the pressure on the media, journalists and bloggers dramatically. As a result, the situation and their working conditions changed from grave to catastrophic. While the Belarusian Association of Journalists reports 23 violations of journalists' rights from the beginning of the year to May 8, i.e. before the election was called, it registered over 400 such cases from May 9 to October 12.
The vast majority of these violations occurred after the presidential elections. There were over 230 detentions of journalists during this period. In more than 50 cases, the police used violence when detaining journalists. There were registered facts of torture after detention, and damage or seizure of journalists' equipment; many journalists were held in custody and sentenced to short jail terms and fines. Three journalists were wounded by rubber bullets. None of these facts led to initiation of criminal proceedings against those responsible for the violation of the rights of journalists.
Other election-related violations of freedom of expression include:
- the Internet blackout in the whole country in the first days after the election and its regular shutdowns during mass protests,
- access restrictions to news websites,
- a tacit ban on printing and distribution of several national outlets,
- official warnings by the Ministry of Information to various mass media,
- disregard of foreign journalists' applications for accreditation,
- unjustified deprivation of permanent accreditation of foreign journalists, and
- stricter rules for receiving new accreditation for foreign media journalists.
We are particularly concerned about the criminal case against Nasha Niva chief editor Yahor Martsinovich and deprivation of TUT.BY of media status.
In view of the above,
WE DEMAND TO:
- Investigate all cases of violations of journalists' rights, including torture, violence, arbitrary detention, damage to and seizure of equipment, and to bring those responsible to justice.
- Abandon the practice of arbitrary arrests of journalists when they are performing their professional duties.
- Release bloggers who have been recognized as political prisoners.
- Return the status of media to TUT.BY.
- Stop the prosecution of Nasha Niva chief editor Yahor Martsinovich.
- Stop the practice of denial printing and distribution services to print media by state-owned distribution networks;
- Stop the practice of blocking the Internet;
- Abandon the practice of extrajudicial and arbitrary blocking of online news websites and to restore access to the blocked websites;
- Stop the practice of obstructing the work of foreign media journalists, as well as freelance journalists.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Press Club Belarus
United Media Association of the Regional Press Publishers