Belarus decides to close main association of journalists
The Belarusian Justice Ministry is seeking to shut down the country’s main association of journalists amid intensifying repression against the media and civil society.
On July 21, the Ministry of Justice asked the Supreme Court to shut down the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) for “repeated violations of the law”.
The move comes after authorities on July 20 froze all BAJ bank accounts following police raids on their offices last week.
“It is obvious that this is a brutal campaign of reprisals against the organization,” said BAJ vice president. Barys Harecki said, adding that they will fight to maintain the legal status of the association.
The Ministry of Justice alleges that the BAJ failed to comply with the submission requirements of certain documents, mainly related to the rental contracts of some of the association’s offices. BAJ said he had only had a few days to submit the documents but was unable to respond to the ministry as their offices were cordoned off following police raids.
The association was founded 25 years ago and has 1,300 members. It is the largest media association in Belarus and a member of the International Federation of Journalists.
The attempt to shut down BAJ comes as Belarusian authorities have stepped up their campaign against independent media.
BAJ said that in recent weeks, authorities have carried out 66 searches of media offices and journalists’ homes, while 32 journalists are in detention awaiting trial or serving prison terms.
Earlier this week, authorities also froze the bank accounts of the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers headed by Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Laureate for Literature and member of the Belarusian Opposition Coordinating Council.
Authorities have also relentlessly pursued non-governmental and human rights groups, including raids this month against a human rights watchdog, Vyasna, and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. .
Radical actions show authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka intends to step up his crackdown on dissent, after the country was rocked by protests following the August 2020 elections which granted him a contested sixth term .
The opposition and the West claim the election was won by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in Washington this week for meetings with officials in the Biden administration and US lawmakers to mobilize support for the pro-democracy movement.
“We had talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and discussed the importance of supporting Belarusian journalists and human rights activists now,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement. “The Belarusian people expect resolute action from the United States. The stronger the measures to put pressure on the regime, the faster they will achieve their goal. “
Lukashenka responded to his regime’s challenge by imprisoning thousands of people and forcing most of the opposition leaders who were not imprisoned to leave the country.
The West, which refused to recognize the official results of the vote and does not view Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of the country, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against the regime.