BAJ labeled ‘extremist group’ by Lukashenko’s regime
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), laureate of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, has been labeled an ‘extremist group’ by Alyaksandr Lukashenko‘s regime, in an obvious act of obstruction to the freedom of the press. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) brings its full support to the association and its members.
The Belarusian KGB’s decision, issued on 28 February 2023 and made public this week on 7 March 2023, means that anyone that has taken part in BAJ’s activities could face up to 10 years in prison, according to the country’s Criminal code. The security services stated that BAJ president Andrey Bastunets and vice-president Barys Haretski, as well as six other BAJ members, were found to have “carried out extremist activities”.
This escalation of attacks on the media association, adding up to its liquidation by the Supreme Court in August 2021, is one of many attacks to the media since the 2020 mass protests against Lukashenko’s decision to run for the presidential election, and following reelection.
The association now appear in the Interior Ministry’s list of extremist groups, a list that exceeds one hundred media groups and NGOs. BAJ, the only independent representative organisation of journalists and media workers in Belarus, has also become the first Belarusian human rights organisation to be labeled as ‘extremist’. It will continue its activities, still from exile, as the ongoing crackdown on civil society and independent press continues in the country.
BAJ issued a statement assuring it will continue the association’s mission: “expanding the space for freedom of speech through the support of high-quality journalism demanded in modern society and the dissemination of truthful information.”
“The Belarusian dictator and his henchmen will have to be held accountable for repeated violations of press freedom and human rights,” said EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “We call on intergovernmental organisations to increase pressure on the Lukashenko regime and to step up support for Belarusian democrats in exile and in particular for journalists who continue to inform the world about human rights violations in Belarus.”