The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has expressed its intention to appeal the justice ministry’s warning used as a reason for a lawsuit seeing the organization’s closure.
“We strongly disagree with the justice ministry’s accusations and will appeal this warning,” the BAJ said in a statement on Thursday.
The BAJ noted that its office in Minsk had been sealed off for a month after a search on February 16, and that its representatives had been summoned for questioning by the Investigative Committee several times.
“On June 21, it turned out that the activities of the BAJ and other NGOs had been put under the justice ministry’s scrutiny,” the BAJ said. “Taken together, all these events can be viewed as a purposeful repressive persecution of the organization and the creation of conditions impeding its activities.”
The BAJ pointed out that its Minsk office had been sealed off again after a raid on July 14.
“The organization has no access to its statutory documents, seal and lease agreements mentioned in the warning. We do not even know what things were seized from the BAJ’s office,” the statement said.
On July 21, the justice ministry filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the BAJ over its alleged failure to stop violations of regulations.
When reached by BelaPAN, BAJ Deputy Chairperson Barys Harecki said that the organization intended to fight for its legal status “till the end.”
He said that the justice ministry had not officially informed the BAJ about its intention to close the organization. He also said that they could not fix the problems raised in the ministry’s warning because their Minsk office was still sealed off and they had no access to their papers. He pointed out that they had told the justice ministry about their situation.
Even if the BAJ loses its legal status, it will continue its activities aimed at “defending itself and its colleagues,” Mr. Harecki stressed.
“The BAJ is not only a legal address and a registration license but 25 years of successful work that keeps going. This is more than 1,300 media people who remain members of the BAJ despite pressure. We are confident that our community will not disappear,” he said.
On July 15, the BAJ received a letter from the justice ministry saying that a warning had been issued to the organization.
The ministry explained that the BAJ had failed to submit certain documents. In addition, there were issues with lease agreements for some of the BAJ’s offices in the provinces.
The ministry instructed the BAJ to take steps to resolve the issues and notify it on July 16 at the latest.
“It is noteworthy that the warning was issued by Deputy [Justice] Minister Siarhiej Kalinoŭski on July 8 and the stamp on the letter says that it was sent on July 9 but [postal operator] Belpošta’s tracking system shows that the letter was received from the sender on July 13, one day before an attack on the organization’s office,” the BAJ said at the time.
On July 14, law enforcement officers conducted a search at the BAJ’s office in Minsk. The property was sealed off after the search.