European Federation of Journalists

Belarusian Association of Journalists awarded the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

Credit: Unesco

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has been awarded the 2022 UNESCO Guillermo Cano Prize. The Award Ceremony will take place on 2 May in Punta Del Este in Uruguay, on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day. The European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ/IFJ) congratulate their Belarusian member for the well-deserved international recognition of its work for journalists and media freedom in Belarus.

The EFJ nominated its affiliate BAJ for the award, together with the IFJ and 46 Unesco ambassadors. An international jury of media professionals eventually awarded the journalists’ association with one of the most prestigious prizes for press freedom.

“By awarding the prize to the BAJ, we are standing by all journalists around the world who criticise, oppose and expose authoritarian politicians and regimes by transmitting truthful information and promoting freedom of expression. Today we salute and praise them; we find a way to say: we are with you and we value your courage,” said Alfred Lela, the President of the international jury of the Prize.

BAJ was established in 1995 as a non-governmental association of media workers with the aim of promoting freedom of expression and independent journalism in Belarus. It brings together more than 1300 journalists and media workers. As part of the crackdown following Lukashenko’s fraudulent election, the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the association in August 2021, forcing it to cease its activities in the country and relocate offices abroad.

The $25,000 Prize recognises outstanding contributions to the defence or promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger. It is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986. It is funded by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland), the Namibia Media Trust, Democracy & Media Foundation Stichting Democratie & Media (The Netherlands), and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Many journalists and BAJ employees were forced to leave their country under threat of reprisals. Some of them had to do so twice and even three times after the Russian attack on Ukraine, where they first settled. But they continue their work. Just as the Belarusian Association of Journalists continues its work. The BAJ sees this award as support for the entire independent journalistic community in Belarus. And we hope that it will draw attention to the continuing deterioration of the media freedom situation in the country, in order to have an impact on improving this situation. Today, our hearts go out to those behind bars. And our hearts go out to Ukraine”, said Barys Haretski, Deputy chairman of BAJ.

“This recognition of BAJ’s work by UNESCO, directly supported by 46 states, but also by the IFJ, EFJ and OCCRP, is a snook to the dictatorial regime of Mr. Lukashenko, who ordered the liquidation of our affiliate,” said EFJ General Secretary, Ricardo Gutiérrez. BAJ continues to operate in exile. We are not impressed by the repression of the Belarusian authorities”.

“We welcome UNESCO’s decision to recognize the relentless and courageous fight for press freedom our friends at BAJ have been pursuing despite Lukashenko’s constant attacks and pressure. BAJ ‘s victory is also a victory for all those unions that continue to resist pressure and oppression to defend media workers’ rights. Today is a very important day for journalists’ unions”, said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger.