Authorities in Belarus have named the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and staff an “extremist formation” in an ongoing, relentless crackdown on rights defenders and the media in the country.
Hawk is a leading independent organization working to promote and protect freedom of expression and the rights of journalists in Belarus since 1995. in 2021, official BAJ’s official registration was taken away along with hundreds of other rights groups on bogus grounds. Since working for an unregistered organization is a criminal offense in Belarus, BAJ’s leadership had to flee the country to continue its work abroad.
The new “extremist” label formally bars anyone from engaging in BAJ’s activities, including providing money and other “support”. These activities are a criminal offense under Belarusian law, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.
BAJ lead notes While the decision was not unexpected, the new position puts more than 1,300 former members of the BAJ at greater risk, as well as the freelance journalists it protects.
In 2021, Reporters Without Borders called Belarus most dangerous country in Europe for journalists. Since then the situation with press freedom in Belarus has only worsened. Facing independent media persons politically motivated prosecution and shockingly long sentencesArbitrary arrests, beatings and other abuses in detention, raids, detentions, being labeled as extremists, and more. thirty two media persons Currently behind bars.
BAJ deputy chair Aleh Ageyu told Human Rights Watch that the government’s decision was “an act of politically motivated persecution” in retaliation for the organization’s human rights work.
As the Belarusian authorities crack down on all forms of opposition, human rights defenders in the country and in exile become their prime targets.
Just last week, a Minsk court sentenced the head of the prominent Belarusian rights group Viasna and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ales Bialiatsky, his deputy, Valentinsyn Stefanovic, and Viasna’s lawyer, Uladzimir Labkovich, to ten, nine and seven years in prison. Heard. respectively.
The government aims to create an information vacuum about ongoing rights violations. But boldly continuing their work despite shocking repression, Belarusian rights defenders claim that this goal will never be achieved and that solidarity cannot be suppressed.