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Statement by State Minister Niels Annen in the Security Council Arria-formula VTC meeting on Media Freedom in Belarus, January 22

22.01.2021 - Speech

Check Against Delivery

Being a journalist in Belarus is “like walking through a mine field”, as Boris Groezkij from the Belarusian Association of Journalists told Deutsche Welle in an interview a few weeks ago.

After the sham elections of August 2020, the people of Belarus started calling for their democratic rights and have taken to the streets. They have done so peacefully, without exceptions. And courageous journalists have covered these protests, they have been speaking truth to power.

What was the reaction of the authorities?

Independent journalism and journalists are facing restrictions, suppression and persecution. Members of the media have faced brutal violence, mass arrests, loss of accreditations and personal and professional persecution. Some recent examples:

  • The arrests and investigations against leading members of the Press Club Belarus under tax evasion charges as well as against the former deputy director of the independent media outlet “BelaPAN”, Andrei Alyaksandrau.
  • Bloggers have been threatened and arrested. Igor Lossik, for example, a Belarusian blogger detained already in June 2020, had his pre-trial detention arbitrarily extended in mid-December, which is why he went on hunger strike. By now, his health and life are in jeopardy.
  • Reporters without Borders unveiled an increase of women journalists arrested in Belarus in 2020 by 35 %. There are credible reports of sexual assault and violence.

The persecution of both peaceful demonstrators and the press must stop. We condemn in the strongest terms any attacks against journalists and the free press in Belarus. They are a violation of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as of OSCE standards that Belarus has promised to adhere to.

Despite the personal risks and dangers, Belarusian journalists have continued doing their job. They keep informing the people of Belarus and the world about the violent repression peaceful protesters are exposed to by the government and the security forces of Belarus. These journalists are showing immense courage and determination in order to shed a light on a most gruesome situation in the heart of Europe. And I would like to thank our briefers today for bringing the dire and urgent situation of the brave journalists of Belarus to the attention of the Security Council and the wider UN Membership.

The journalists and media personal deserve our gratitude. But what they need even more is: our action! The European Union has imposed sanctions against individuals and entities in Belarus who are part of the crackdown and violence against peaceful protesters and the media in Belarus. We need to collect evidence and establish a mechanism to be able to hold those responsible for the violence and all human rights violations to account. This is one key request in the report by Prof. Benedek that was commissioned by 17 OSCE participating states and supported by Germany. And we need to support and shelter journalists under attack!

Therefore, the German government has launched an “Action Plan Civil Society Belarus”, comprising programmes and measures to support those who are in need, amongst them independent journalists and media workers.

Ladies and gentlemen, the persecution of the free press in Belarus is part of the political crisis brought about by election fraud and the massive violations of human rights we have seen ever since. I call on Minsk to end the violence, to release the political prisoners unconditionally and to stop persecuting those serving on the Coordination Council.

The authorities need to finally engage in a genuine and inclusive national dialogue. In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities to engage with the OSCE and take up the standing offer of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to facilitate dialogue.

The European Union stands ready to provide assistance to facilitating a national dialogue, which must be underpinned by independent and free media and a free and vibrant civil society. Journalists must be able to report freely. Citizens must be allowed to peacefully express their views and to freely assemble.

Germany will continue to stand with the people of Belarus in the pursuit of their democratic rights.

I thank you for your attention.

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