European Federation of Journalists

Tech Giants must stop being complicit in the repression of Belarusian journalists in exile

Credits: Ricardo Gutiérrez / EFJ.

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) and its Belarusian affiliate, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), were guests at the 2nd Council of Europe workshop dedicated to Belarusian journalists in exile, on 20-21 November, in Warsaw. The event provided an opportunity to highlight the unwillingness of Big Tech, and even its complicity with the repression of the Belarusian regime. The EFJ calls on Tech Giants to stop supporting the Belarusian dictatorship and to protect media freedom wherever it is threatened.

The event was organised by the Council of Europe and the Justice For Journalists Foundation. It was attended by around forty participants: Belarusian journalists in exile, their organisations (BAJ, Press Club Belarus) and a number of organisations that support them (EFJ, several European journalists’ unions, including LZS, the OSCE-RFoM, the Thomson Reuter Foundation, the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights, etc.), as well as representatives from Meta-Facebook and Google.

The EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez thanked the Council of Europe for accepting the request of the partners of the Platform for the Protection of Journalism to include Belarus, as the EFJ had been asking for since 2017: “This will give more visibility to the extent of the violations of media freedom by the Lukashenko regime… Just one figure: there are currently 126 journalists in prison in Europe, and 32, or 25% of the total, in Belarus alone”.

Maria Ordzhonikidze, director of JFJ Foundation, presented the outcomes of an expert survey showing that 45% of Belarusian and Russian journalists working abroad continue to face a variety of threats (threats to their life/well-being, legal risks, surveillance and hacking). “75% of respondents from Belarus and 50% from Russia sought to return to their native countries as soon as possible,” she said.

“What I found most shocking was the number of reports from Belarusian journalists in exile questioning the Tech Giants’ lack of cooperation with them, and even their complicity with the regime of the dictator Lukashenko, in particular YouTube‘s censorship of BelPol‘s investigation into the private security service GardService in Belarus“, commented Gutérrez. “This must stop!”

In their provisional conclusions, the participants in the Council of Europe workshop call on search engines, social media platforms and other internet intermediaries “to facilitate access of the Belarusian public to independent online media resources provided by the Belarusian journalists and media outlets in exile, and to enable visibility and prominence of Belarusian independent media channels, messages and news feeds”.

The EFJ calls on Tech Giants to end their collaboration with regimes that repress media freedom, in Belarus and around the world.