On February 28, the Belarusian State Security Committee recognized the Belarusian Association of Journalists as an extremist formation. BAJ was the first Belarusian human rights organization to be “awarded” such a status. The international community is outraged by such a decision by the Belarusian authorities.
The OSCE condemned another attack on the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
“It is deeply regretful that the Belarusian authorities continue to create a climate of harassment and fear among and towards members of the media, deliberately targeting and stifling free and independent voices,” said OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Teresa Ribeiro.
“The decision of the authorities to designate BAJ as an ‘extremist formation’ aims to further undermine the organization’s important work of protecting and advocating for the rights of journalists and is the latest manifestation of the clampdown by the authorities on media freedom in the country.
I have also noted with great concern the authorities’ previous decisions to add BelaPAN, Nasha Niva, Euroradio, and other independent media, to the list of ‘extremist formations,’” Teresa Ribeiro added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Belarusian authorities to stop persecuting the organizations and allow them to work freely:
“By labeling the Belarusian Association of Journalists as ‘extremist,’ Belarusian authorities are doing nothing but lashing out at an organization that has already been forced from the country in retaliation for its fight for journalists’ rights,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ Europe, and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York.
“Authorities must stop obstructing BAJ and the Brestskaya Gazeta newspaper’s work and cease using extremism legislation to silence independent journalism.”
Reporters Without Borders, an international non-governmental organization, voiced its support on Twitter.
“Another dreadful and absurd decision in #Belarus: the KGB has declared BAJ an ‘extremist organization.’ RSF supports its partner, targeted for its essential work in collecting abuses against journalists despite its dissolution by the regime.”
The International Press Institute (IPI) is outraged by the Belarusian regime’s decision. The institution considers it a deliberate attack on the media association, forced to operate in exile after the Supreme Court of Belarus liquidated BAJ in August 2021.
“Belarusian authorities continue their systematic effort to silence all independent voices they do not already directly control”, said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen.
“Although the decision to declare BAJ an ‘extremist group’ is yet another in a long series of such attacks on media and civil society, the IPI global network strongly condemns this blatant act of repression.”
“IPI and our global network stand behind BAJ and all independent journalists inside and outside Belarus. The extremists in this situation are not BAJ, but the authoritarian president and his security services who arbitrarily criminalize and persecute journalists,” Scott Griffen added.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) wholeheartedly supports the association and its members. It recalls that BAJ is a winner of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, so the decision of the Belarusian authorities can be considered “an obvious act of obstruction to the freedom of the press.”
“This escalation of attacks on the media association, adding up to its liquidation by the Supreme Court in August 2021, is one of many attacks on the media since the 2020 mass protests against Lukashenko’s decision to run for the presidential election, and following reelection,” the EFJ adds and stresses:
BAJ, the only independent representative organization of journalists and media workers in Belarus, has also become the first Belarusian human rights organization to be labeled as ‘extremist’. It will continue its activities, still from exile, as the ongoing crackdown on civil society and the independent press continues in the country.
The Belarusian dictator and his henchmen will have to be held accountable for repeated violations of press freedom and human rights,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.
“We call on intergovernmental organizations to increase pressure on the Lukashenko regime and to step up support for Belarusian democrats in exile and in particular for journalists who continue to inform the world about human rights violations in Belarus,” he said.
Article 19, an international human rights organization working to protect and promote freedom of speech and information around the world, has expressed its solidarity with BAJ.
“ARTICLE 19 strongly denounces this blatant attack on free speech and fundamental rights. This unjustified decision presents severe repercussions – including criminal ones – for individuals affiliated with the leading press association in the country, and further quashes civil society,” human rights activists stress.
“Lukashenko has repeatedly shown that he has no intention to allow a democratic transition in Belarus. He and his political camp will not stop at anything in their pursuit to completely dismantle civil society and crush freedom of expression. As an international community, we have a duty to support Belarusians and advocate for their fundamental rights to be respected,” says Joanna Szymańska, Senior Programme Officer at ARTICLE 19.
ARTICLE 19 “stands in solidarity with courageous members of the BAJ and salutes their tireless work to defend free speech and quality, reliable journalism.”