Rights groups have called on the international community to defend Belarus’s leading journalists union as authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko’s regime attempts to shut it down amid a sharp crackdown on free media and civil society.
Belarus’s Ministry of Justice has asked the Supreme Court to shut down the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) for “repeated violations of the law”, while authorities closed all BAZh bank accounts after police raids on their offices last week. has frozen.
The ministry alleged that BAZh failed to comply with the requirements of submission of certain documents, mostly related to lease agreements in some of its offices. The association said it was given only a few days to submit the documents and could not respond to the ministry as its offices were sealed after the police raided it.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) accused Lukashenko of using the move as an “excuse” to “dismantle the only professional organization defending ethical, independent and independent journalism in Belarus”.
“It’s an ambush! A real trap is closing in on BAJ,” said EFJ president Mogens Bleicher Bjergrd in aStatement.
The Independent Media Association was founded 25 years ago and has 1,300 members.
BAZh is a member of the EFJ, which called on its allies to organize to alert their governments of BAZh’s fate, and “feedback” from international organizations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. urged to do. Loudly.”
“It is clear that this is a brutal retaliation campaign against the organization,” Arm Deputy chairman Barris Haretsky said he would fight to maintain the association’s legal status.
The Ministry of Justice alleges that BAZh failed to comply with the requirements to submit certain documents, mostly related to lease agreements at certain offices of the Association. Baz said only a few days were given to submit the documents, but could not respond to the ministry as their offices were sealed after the police raid.
The association was founded 25 years ago and has 1,300 members. It is the largest media association in Belarus, and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned “the absurdity of this harassment” against BAZh.
#Belarus: Min. of Justice @pressminist wants to end @baj_by! It filed complaints for “repeated violations of the law” after it demanded documents, while the offices, searched multiple times, have been sealed since 7/14. @rsf_inter Condemns the senselessness of this harassment. pic.twitter.com/GRbqs6Nugw
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) 21 July 2021
As Belarusian authorities intensified their campaign against independent media, Baz said that in recent weeks authorities had conducted 66 searches at media offices and journalists’ homes, while 32 journalists were either in custody or awaiting trial. or serving a prison sentence.
Earlier this week, authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian Pen Center, a union of writers led by Svetlana Alexievich, a Nobel laureate for literature and a member of the Coordinating Council of the Belarusian Opposition.
Authorities have also relentlessly pursued non-governmental and human rights groups, including raids this month against a top human rights watchdog, Vyasna, and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.
The wider actions suggest that Lukashenka intended to further intensify his crackdown on dissent following protests in the country following the August 2020 presidential election, which gave him a controversial sixth term in office.
The opposition and the West say the election was won by Svyatlan Tsikhanouskaya, who is meeting in Washington this week with Biden administration officials and US lawmakers to garner support for the pro-democracy movement.
“We spoke with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and discussed how important it is now to support Belarusian journalists and human rights activists,” Sichanovskaya said in a video statement. “The people of Belarus expect a resolute American action. The stronger the measures to put pressure on the regime, the faster they will achieve their goal.”
Lukashenko jailed thousands for responding to a challenge to his rule and forced most opposition leaders to leave the country.
The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the vote and does not consider Lukashenko the country’s legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against the regime.