Ahead of a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers on August 13, the Vienna-based International Press Institute has called on Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg to push for a united EU condemnation of violence against journalists covering the ongoing protests in Belarus. Dozens of journalists have been physically assaulted or detained by security forces in recent days after Sunday’s vote, widely seen as fraudulent, in which long-time dictator Alexander Lukashenko claimed to have won re-election.
“In the spirit of Austria’s long-standing commitment to defending journalist safety, we call on you to raise the issue of attacks on journalists at tomorrow’s meeting and urge the EU foreign ministers to condemn this violence and send a strong message to Belarus government that it must cease all attacks on the press and that all journalists detained must be swiftly released”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in the letter sent today.
Austria has been a leading voice promoting journalist safety at the international level, initiating several U.N. Human Rights Council resolutions on the issue. Austrian diplomat Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger is the current president of the Human Rights Council.
His Excellency Alexander Schallenberg
Republic of Austria
13 August 2020
Re: Meeting of EU foreign ministers on Belarus – press freedom situation
The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, based in Vienna, is extremely concerned about the increasing attacks, harassment and arrests of journalists by the government in Belarus.
Following the disputed elections, the Alexander Lukashenko government has clamped down on press freedom in an effort to stifle coverage of the protests. Journalists and independent media are under unprecedented attack in the country. Besides local journalists, who are bearing the brunt of the oppression, journalists working for foreign media outlets have also been targeted.
Your excellency, tomorrow the EU foreign ministers are meeting to discuss the situation in Belarus. Austria has been a crucial advocate for journalist safety globally, a role that IPI and many other civil society organizations have strongly welcomed. In the spirit of Austria’s long-standing commitment to defending journalist safety, we respectfully call on you to raise the issue of attacks on journalists at tomorrow’s meeting and urge the EU foreign ministers to condemn this violence and send a strong message to Belarus government that it must cease all attacks on the press and that all journalists detained must be swiftly released.
Numerous journalists, both local and foreign, have been subject to violent assault or detention while covering protests in Minsk and other cities. Local watchdog groups have reported the arrests of more than 50 journalists.
According to information gathered by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, more than 180 journalists have become victims of state oppression this year – attacked, injured and detained by the police and state security agencies – with the numbers rising dramatically in the past few days.
Several journalists working for foreign outlets, including the Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, the BBC, and independent Russian media such as Dozhd, have also been targeted and in some cases ordered to leave the country.
We fear that if the European Union fails to act now and allows the situation to deteriorate in Belarus, it will send a message to other authoritarian leaders in the EU’s neighbourhood that they will be able to supress press freedom and undermine democracy without any scrutiny by the international community. The EU must stand up for the right of journalists in Belarus to do their jobs and the right of the Belarusian public to receive news and information about the ongoing, historic protests.
International Press Institute