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ADDRESS OF THE UKRAINIAN AND BELARUSIAN MEDIA COMMUNITIES TO THE OSCE REPRESENTATIVE ON FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA CONCERNING OPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN BELARUS

Address to Theresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media from the Ukrainian and Belarusian Media Communities, regarding the facts of freedom of speech restrictions in Belarus and repeated cases of physical and psychological pressure on media representatives covering protests against the results of the presidential election

The initiators of the advocacy campaign aimed at protecting the media sphere of Belarus are the public organization Lviv Media Forum and the independent public initiative Free Belarus Center

We, representatives of the Ukrainian and Belarusian media communities, condemn the cases of violation of media freedom in the Republic of Belarus. The role of journalists in covering protests in the country is critical: this work enables citizens to enjoy their right to timely and truthful information on the government activities and events in the country.

In 2020, repression by the Belarusian authorities against the media reached a peak, particularly intensifying after the August 9 elections. Hundreds of journalists were injured because of their professional activities. Last year, 480 employees of media outlets were detained, with 97 detentions resulting in administrative arrests, and at least 62 journalists encountered violence during their post-election professional activities, with many cases corresponding to the definition of torture. In at least three cases, journalists ended up with gunshot wounds.

In 2021, government pressure continued: Press Club Belarus and the Belarusian Association of Journalists were subjected to political repression. Three journalists were placed under administrative arrest, and eighteen were forced to pay fines. Today, 12 journalists are in prison: Katsyaryna Andreyeva, Daria Chultsova, Katerina Borisevich, Yulia Slutskaya, Alla Sharko, Sergei Olshevsky, Petr Slutsky, Ksenia Lutskina, Andrei Alexandrov, Denis Ivashin, Sergei Gordievich, and Andrzej Poczobut. Three of them have already been sentenced to imprisonment. Human rights activists and lawyers consider the cases to be politically motivated and do not see the actions of journalists as a crime. The journalists themselves have been recognized as political prisoners.

Here are some examples of pressure on journalists that has caused a major public outcry in Belarusian society. 

On August 10, 2020, the second day after the presidential election, Nasha Niva journalist Natalia Lubnevska was wounded by a rubber bullet while on duty during one of the peaceful protests. Later, the editorial office of Nasha Niva published a video, which clearly shows that one of the security officers deliberately shot at Lubnevska’s legs, although her press vest was clearly visible in the crowd. She spent more than a month in hospital.

In November 2020, TUT.BY journalist Katerina Borisevich was detained, and her apartment was searched and equipment confiscated. She was later accused of “disclosing medical secrets with grave consequences.” This is how Belarusian security officials view the publication of her article, which says that Roman Bondarenko, who was killed during peaceful protests, had no alcohol in his blood, while security officials and government-sponsored media say the opposite. The same material contained the pictures of documents confirming the absence of alcohol in the blood of the deceased Bondarenko and a comment of a medical professional from the hospital which had cared for him. In early 2021, Borisevich was sentenced to six months in prison and fined approximately the equivalent of one thousand euros.

Journalists of Belsat TV channel Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Daria Chultsova were detained in November last year after a live broadcast from an apartment near the Square of Changes, where concerned Belarusians organized a memorial to Roman Bondarenko, a resident of the capital killed by security forces. They were later accused of “preparing actions that grossly violate public order.” The result of the trial, which took place earlier this year, was two years in a general regime penal colony.

Other freedom of expression violations in connection with the election campaign include complete blocking of Internet access by the authorities in Belarus in the first days after the election and constant restrictions on the Internet during mass protests, restrictions on access to websites covering the political situation in the country, revocation of media status of TUT.BY — one of the largest portals, refusal of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to consider applications for accreditation from foreign correspondents, numerous searches of editorial offices and journalists, new complicated accreditation procedure for journalists of foreign media.

Expressing our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy, we call on the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media to pay attention to the violations of publicity, freedom of speech and freedom of the media as well as human rights violations in Belarus, to recognize the facts of political pressure on media representatives to obstruct the work of media by the Belarusian government and create unfavorable conditions for journalists.

Pressure on journalists, their detention and politically motivated criminal prosecution violate the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights. Considering the mass violations of freedom of expression in Belarus, we ask the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Representative on Freedom of the Media Theresa Ribeiro: 

– To call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately stop the persecution of, illegal use of force against, journalists and media workers, to stop gross violations of freedom of speech and restrictions of access to information; 

– To call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release political prisoners, including journalists in prisons, end repression and bring to justice the representatives of the state security forces who committed crimes;

– To facilitate publicizing of situations in which journalists’ rights are violated, and they are illegally arrested or face physical violence and psychological pressure;

– To support the efforts of the OSCE participating States, which have initiated a procedure to investigate crimes against humanity committed by the Belarusian authorities against journalists; 

– To encourage OSCE participating States to implement the recommendations on freedom of expression set out in the Report under the Moscow Mechanism on Alleged Human Rights Violations related to the Presidential Elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus.

To sign the address, go to bit.ly/zvernenna

Signatories:

NGO “Lviv Media Forum”

Free Belarus Center

Natalia Humeniuk, journalist, founder of the Public Interest Journalism Lab

Natalia Ligachova, head of the Media Detector NGO

Svetlana Garda, Editor-in-Chief of Media-Polesye.by

Kateryna Matsyupa, guest editor, producer of Hromadske Radio

Mykola Ribitva, capacity building manager, Action Institute

Yelyzaveta Kuzmenko, Chair of the Board of the Association “Women in Media”

Olha Vesnianka, editor, journalist, media trainer

Gayane Avakyan, Head of the Eastern Office of the Media Growth Agency ABO

Lesia Lutsiuk, PR manager of Suspilne

Olha Yatsyna, journalist, Holos Hromady Publishing House 

Maryna Zhyvotkova, Director of Silski Novyny

Kateryna Sergatskova, Editor-in-Chief of Zaborona Media

Daria Homan, content manager, Suspilne

Olena Sadovnik, Executive Director of Zaborona Media

Nadia Strashko, editor of the Internet portal Hadiach.City

Yana Serheyeva, editor of Dobronews.city

Volodymyr Oros, Chair of NGO Dopropil Youth Center “DOBRO”

Yaroslav Nesterenko, Editor-in-Chief of Popasnyanskyi Visnyk

Anastasia Kharina, journalist of Volnovakha.City

Victoria Khozhainova, journalist of Suspilne

Natalia Maksimava, freelancer, DW

Anton Naumliuk, Editor-in-Chief of the Graty Media Project

Maxim Kamenyev, correspondent of the Graty Media Project

Diliara Kudusov, director of Novyi Den city newspaper

Iryna Lymar, editor-in-chief, Kuma.City journalist

Oleksandr Krasovytskyi, Editor-in-Chief of Folio Publishing House

Oksana Dudar, editor-in-chief of the Divis.info news agency

Oksana Rasulova, LB.ua reporter

Oksana Mamchenkova, Ukrainian PEN Project Coordinator

Mykhailo Sydorzhevskyi, Editor-in-Chief of Ukrainian Literary Newspaper

Liudmyla Puliayeva, freelance correspondent of Lviv media, R. Ivanychuk Lviv Oblast Library for Youth  

Olha Sytnik, Editor-in-Chief of Ukrainska Pravda. Life.

Olha Melnyk, communications manager of the Ukrainian Public Broadcasting Company

Angelina Karyakina, journalist and editor of the UPBC

Vasyl Arovych, UGC Producer, Suspilne

Iryna Slavinska, journalist

Kostiantyn Tsentsura, journalist, Novoye Vremia

Mykola Riabchuk, writer & journalist, Ukrainian PEN Center

Iryna Krasutska, Editor-in-Chief of Orion

Olena Stepanenko, poet, translator, journalist of Priamyi Channel

Lesyk Panasiuk, writer, translator, designer, performer.

Yurii Opoka, Executive Director of NGO Lviv Media Forum

Serhii Kuzin, Board of Directors, Media Holding TAvR

Yaugen Kazakevich, radio host, Radio Wnet (Kyiv office)

Olena Litvinova, Radio Liberty correspondent, Belarusian Service

Alexander Ziankou, freelance camera operator

Belarusian Association of Journalists

Natalka Rymska, editor of the Culture.pl portal, Adam Mickiewicz Institute

Tetiana Teren, journalist, executive director of the Ukrainian PEN

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