Stockholm, August 27, 2021 – In response to today’s ruling by the Supreme Court of Belarus to dissolve the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the country’s largest independent media association, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“Authorities’ shameless forced closure of the Belarusian Association of Journalists is an escalation of the country’s long-running war on press freedom,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna, in New York. “Since widespread protests began in Belarus in August 2020, BAJ has bravely documented acts of oppression and violence against journalists by the state. There was clearly no place for its independent voice in President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s country.”
Authorities allege that BAJ failed to provide authorities with updated rental contracts for three of its regional offices and neglected to remedy the issue after a warning; previously, authorities had raided the association’s headquarters and frozen its bank accounts, as documented by CPJ. On August 23, the Supreme Court rejected an application from by BAJ to overturn the warning.
BAJ Deputy Director Aleh Aheyeu told CPJ today by messaging app that the organization plans to appeal the dissolution. In a statement issued following the ruling, the association’s director, Andrei Bastunets, said BAJ was its members and not its legal status, and that the organization “will continue to do our job, regardless of the decision of the courts and administrative bodies.”
Since July, Belarus authorities have also dissolved the independent trade organization Press Club Belarus and the Belarusian office of the international free speech organization PEN, and raided the offices of at least nine independent outlets and the homes of dozens of journalists, among a host of other measures against the press documented by CPJ.