VIENNA, 16 February 2021 — The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Teresa Ribeiro, expressed her serious concern over today's searches targeting the Belarusian Association of Journalists and other media workers across the country.
According to reports, on the morning of 16 February law enforcement representatives searched the office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), as well as the homes of Oleg Ageev and Boris Goretskiy, the Deputy Chairpersons of BAJ. During the search, the officers seized laptops, telephones, documents and personal money. Law enforcement representatives also searched the apartment of the son of the Chairperson of BAJ, Andrey Bastunets, and seized his laptops and telephones. Other organizations and individuals, including at least three journalists in the cities of Gomel and Mogilev, were also reportedly searched.
The Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus reportedly stated that the law enforcement authorities, in order to establish the circumstances around the financing of protest activities, had conducted searches of the premises of several human rights organizations in the course of a criminal investigation related to the gross violation of public order.
"Today's searches in the office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the most prominent media freedom organization in Belarus, and in the homes of its members, is yet another worrying development for media freedom and freedom of expression in the country," Ribeiro said. "This comes after a series of disturbing prosecutions of media actors and journalistic professionals in the last few months."
The Representative noted reports indicating that, since August 2020, around 400 journalists, representing both local and foreign media outlets, have been apprehended and assaulted while fulfilling their professional duties, including covering protests in Minsk and other parts of the country.
"I urgently call on the authorities to reverse this negative trend and bring their policies and practices in compliance with their OSCE commitments regarding media freedom and journalists' safety," Ribeiro said. "In 2018, Belarus supported the important Ministerial Council decision on the safety of journalists and joined other participating States in acknowledging that governments have a key role in enabling a safe working environment for journalists."
Ribeiro further expressed her deep concern for the cases of at least ten journalists and media non-governmental organization representatives who are in detention --- some for almost three months --- on serious criminal charges. This includes Katerina Borisevich, Katerina Andreyeva, Darya Chultsova, Andrei Alexandrov and Yulia Slutskaya.
"I ask the authorities to carefully review the cases of all arrested journalists and to fully comply with the principles of rule of law. I hope for their rapid release," Ribeiro said.
"My Office stands ready to provide assistance and expertise in addressing these problematic matters and in improving the media freedom situation and safety of media workers in Belarus," Ribeiro added.
Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
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