On August 27, the Supreme Court of Belarus liquidated the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an internationally respected press freedom and journalists’ rights organization. The IPI global network today condemned this politically motivated decision and calls for an immediate end to the systematic oppression of independent journalism and freedom of expression in Belarus.
The justice ministry of Belarus filed a lawsuit on July 21 seeking the closure of 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. BAJ was given a warning for violating regulations governing the activities of non-governmental organizations. BAJ was unable to deliver all of the requested documents within the given time frame as its headquarters in Minsk had been sealed off by police since a raid on July 14.
“BAJ has earned respect far beyond Belarus’s borders for its courageous commitment to promoting press freedom and journalists’ rights, and has been an invaluable source of information on the current crackdown”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We condemn this cynical act to forcibly close an organization dedicated to defending fundamental rights and liberties. The IPI global network stands in solidarity with BAJ and its staff.”
BAJ is an independent media organization founded in 1993, uniting more than 1,300 Belarusian journalists and media workers. BAJ has received international recognition for its work, including the Canada-U.K. Media Freedom Award and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union’s highest human rights tribute.
Since the 2020 elections, press freedom and journalists in Belarus have been under constant pressure from President Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime. BAJ has been the leading source of reliable information on the state of media freedom in the country, keeping track of every raid, arrest, censorship attempt and act of police brutality against media workers and news outlets in Belarus.
The organization has helped its members who have faced physical violence, criminal prosecution and arbitrary detentions during the past year. BAJ has documented over 500 instances of state repression against journalists and editors and at least 62 cases of physical violence since the 2020 elections. Twenty-six media workers remain behind bars at the moment.
“BAJ is not a simple entry in the register of legal entities. It’s almost 1500 members of the organization, united by the awareness of their mission: to expand the space of freedom of speech in Belarus. Sorry for the pathos and a quote from the BAJ Strategy”, the organization’s chairman Andrei Bastunets said in a statement. “These are friends and colleagues. It’s about us, not the legal status and office. And we will continue to do our work regardless of the decisions of courts and administrative bodies, by all legal means.”