The Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria might seem like an odd venue to stage a call for resistance. Nine hundred people in tuxedos and gowns. Champagne and cocktails. Bill Cunningham snapping photos. This combination is generally more likely to coax a boozy nostalgia than foment a revolution. But the journalists honored last night at CPJ's annual International Press Freedom Awards had a clear message to their colleagues: Fight the power.
In a rare development, the Belarusian general prosecutor, Grigory Vasilevich, stepped up for journalists and defended their right to report on ongoing political protests. According to a statement issued by his press office on Friday, Vasilevich sent a letter to Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov in which he reminded his colleague of journalists' rights under the law. While noting that police have a duty to protect public order and that journalists have an obligation to comply with national laws, Vasilevich urged Kuleshov to instruct police to do their work without obstructing reporters.
It has been four long months since security forces snatched Irina Khalip, at left, from Minsk's Independence Square while she was reporting on a protest of the flawed December 19 Belarusian presidential vote.
While Khalip was giving a live account from the square to the Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, riot police beat her and forcibly drove her away. (Her husband, opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, was repeatedly struck with clubs and also arrested. He remains imprisoned today.) Khalip was one of at least 20 journalists detained that night, but her treatment has been especially harsh.
Unless European Union officials mean to expose the inconsistency of their own policymaking, they should stand firm by their declared commitment to defend press freedom and human rights in the former Soviet countries. For now, their drastically different approaches to authoritarian leaders in Belarus and Uzbekistan leave one questioning the EU's strategy.
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