European Federation of Journalists

Belarus: Exiled journalists denied passport renewals

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks as he meets with foreign media at his residence, the Independence Palace, in the capital Minsk on July 6, 2023. Credit: Alexander Nemenov / AFP

On September 4, Aleksandr Lukashenko‘s regime ordered the country’s embassies to stop issuing passports to citizens living abroad. A measure that will directly impact Belarusian journalists in exile and citizens who fled repression. The European and the International Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) join its affiliate, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), in condemning the latest repressive action by the regime to crush free speech and political opposition. The Federations amplify their calls to immediately release the 33 imprisoned journalists in the country.

Belarusian citizens who fled the country, including journalists and media workers in exile, are facing increased restrictions by Lukashenko’s regime. Since September 4, the country’s embassies have stopped issuing passports to citizens living abroad, who will be obliged to return to Belarus if they wish to renew their travel documents. According to the decree, Belarusian passports can only be renewed where the holder was a registered resident before leaving the country.

Following the passport ban, BAJ issued a statement, calling for the creation of mechanisms to protect Belarusian citizens abroad.

BAJ Chairperson, Andrei Bastunets, said: “This situation puts Belarusians abroad in an extremely unfavourable situation, first of all those who cannot return to Belarus. Now our fellow citizens are left to look for the possibility of obtaining other documents in the country of exile.”

The EFJ and the FJ strongly reject the latest repressive move by Lukashenko‘s regime to crush free speech and political opposition.

“With thousands of Belarusian citizens in exile, including journalists who risk facing prosecution and jail sentences if they return, Lukashenko has gone one step further. We call on press freedom organisations and journalists’ associations to highlight this brutal repression of the media and flagrant human rights violations. Our support for brave Belarusian journalists is unwavering. We demand the release of all imprisoned journalists and media workers. ”

Associated Press reported that an estimated 200-300,000 Belarusians have left the country in the last three years, following the outbreak of massive protests against Lukashenko. On August 9, 2020, the dictator was declared the winner of the fraudulent presidential election and suppressed peaceful demonstrations with extreme brutality. Since then, Belarusian journalists have faced hundreds of arrests and detentions.

At present, there are currently 33 journalists and media workers behind bars in Belarus.

On August 31, journalist Larysa Shchyrakova was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail in the country. The journalist was accused of discrediting Belarus and promoting extremist activities, under the form of allegedly disseminating disinformation online. The EFJ and the IFJ have condemned the fabricated charges against her, and called for her unconditional and immediate release.

In March 2023, BAJ, was labelled an ‘extremist’ group by the regime, meaning that anyone who engaged in its activities could face up to 10 years in jail.

To support journalists jailed in Belarus, consider joining the Solidarity Marathon launched by BAJ and the Lithuanian Union of Journalists (LZS) on World Press Freedom Day, May 3. It is a call to action for fellow journalists, human rights organisations, and well-known public figures fighting for the democratic values of free expression and the right to information. Read more about BAJ’s campaign.