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The Belarusian Association of Journalists

Sakharov Prize
Atlantic Council’s Freedom Award
UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) was set up as a Belarus-based association of journalists, media workers, and media outlets that work to protect and promote freedom of speech, freedom of information, and the rights of journalists and the media in Belarus. Since its establishment in 1995, the human rights organisation has monitored violations of freedom of expression, including those committed during the presidential elections in 2020. On 27 August 2021, the Supreme Court of Belarus revoked the BAJ’s license to operate, but it continues its operation without a license outside of Belarus as a human rights organisation in exile. The BAJ’s work has been internationally recognised with prizes and awards, including the PACE’s Sakharov Prize in 2004; Atlantic Council’s Freedom Award in 2011; and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2022.

The environment for the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in Belarus has continuously deteriorated since an authoritarian political regime was established there in 1994. HRDs are systematically subjected to intimidation and harassment, including judicial harassment, restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary detention and conviction, ill-treatment and defamation, searches of offices and personal belongings, and confiscations of equipment. The widespread impunity of law enforcement officers contributes to even further human rights violations and retaliations against HRDs.

Human rights organisations are systematically denied registration, while the Criminal Code criminalises members of non-registered groups with punishments of up to two years in prison. Furthermore, legislative amendments passed in 2011 made it illegal for human rights organisations to hold funds abroad and established criminal liability for receiving foreign grants or donations. Human rights lawyers are disbarred for defending detained civil and political activists and denouncing their conditions of detention or the violation of fair trial guarantees. The human rights community is routinely stigmatized as being politically motivated and accused of receiving foreign funding in order to carry out sedition, criticise the government or destabilise the existing political system.

There are no independent Belarusian news agencies registered in Belarus. Journalists working with agencies in exile, as well as bloggers and photographers, who vocally denounce violations of human rights, are often subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions or judicial harassment on charges of illegal production and distribution of information, extremism, discrediting and insulting the president or hooliganism. In 2000 and in 2016, two human rights journalists were killed following their active reporting on human rights violations and criticism of repressive policies of the authoritarian government of Belarus.