The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the efforts by the Belarusian government to close down the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
The crackdown on journalists and independent media in Belarus escalated on July 21, when the justice ministry filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) over a delay in delivering documents requested by the ministry and alleged that there were discrepancies in the lease documents of some BAJ offices in the provinces. According to the ministry’s press office, BAJ was given a warning for violating regulations governing the activities of non-governmental organizations’, but the association failed to act on time.
BAJ, which received the first Media Freedom Award in 2020 set up by the governments of Canada and the UK, said that they were unable to deliver the documents as their headquarters in Minsk have been sealed off by police during a raid on July 14. According to BAJ Deputy Chairperson Barys Harecki, the organization informed the justice ministry that they were unable to access their offices to retrieve the documents requested.
“The Belarusian government should immediately stop legal harassment and intimidation of independent journalists and media organizations”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “The move to close down Journalists’ Association is another step to stifle critical and independent voices in the country, where democracy is at risk.”
According to BAJ, 32 journalists are currently detained in Belarus and over the past two weeks, authorities have conducted 67 raids in media offices and journalists’ homes.
On July 16, IPI joined a statement condemning the raids on media outlets and demanding immediate release of all the detained journalists.