Harlem Désir’s visit to Belarus: OSCE monitoring independent journos’ situation

Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, who arrived in Belarus on Monday, has repeatedly showed deep concern over the situation of independent media in our country. Will he manage to get the message across to the Belarusian authorities amid tightening control in the information space?

The program of his three-day visit to Belarus includes meetings with representatives of both state-run agencies and independent media.

“The visit contributes to the media freedom issues’ permanently being on the agenda of the talks between Belarus and Europe. The Belarusian authorities should know that Europe and other countries are keeping a close eye on how the state treats reporters,” Barys Haretski, Spokesman for the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), said.

On the first day of Harlem Désirs visit, Belsat TV journalist Volha Czajczyc was tried for covering the protests in Kurapaty, a Stalin-era mass executions site near Minsk. She was found guilty of production of materials for foreign media without accreditation (Article 22.9 of the Administrative Code) and heavily fined.

“In accordance with the protocol, I had spent two days in Kurapaty and committed an offense. In court I stressed that the policemen failed to provide any evidence and the exact time of allegedly committing an offense. They called a police officer who said he could not remember what way they had defined the exact time. He also could not remember whether there were any proofs. But in the end, the judge decided that I was still guilty,” Volha Czajczyc told Belsat.

The OSCE representative called the recent sentence to Maryna Zolatava, editor-in-chief of the popular news portal TUT.BY ‘excessive measures taken by law enforcement agencies’ and also expressed disquiet about the possible deterioration of the Belarusian independent media situation.

“And again, one should keep in mind that two big political campaigns [parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019-2020] are looming. And in the course of an election campaign in Belarus, there are always many arrests, administrative cases and obstacles to journalists,” warns Haretski.

Unfortunately, while the Belarusian authorities are ostentatiously calling for the diversity of opinions, the pressure on independent journalists is being intensified, and any uptrend is hardly in evidence.

Belarus journalists continue to face pressure – Human Rights Watch

Zmitser Mitskevich/MS, Belsat.eu