The IFJ and EFJ nominated their affiliate BAJ for the award, together with 46 Unesco ambassadors. An international jury of media professionals eventually awarded the journalists' association with one of the most prestigious prizes for press freedom.
"By awarding the prize to the BAJ, we are standing by all journalists around the world who criticise, oppose and expose authoritarian politicians and regimes by transmitting truthful information and promoting freedom of expression. Today we salute and praise them; we find a way to say: we are with you and we value your courage," said Alfred Lela, the President of the international jury of the Prize.
BAJ was established in 1995 as a non-governmental association of media workers with the aim of promoting freedom of expression and independent journalism in Belarus. It brings together more than 1300 journalists and media workers. As part of the crackdown following Lukashenko's fraudulent election, the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the association in August 2021, forcing it to cease its activities in the country and relocate offices abroad.
The $25,000 Prize recognises outstanding contributions to the defence or promotion of press freedom, especially in the face of danger. It is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986. It is funded by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanoma Foundation (Finland), the Namibia Media Trust, Democracy & Media Foundation Stichting Democratie & Media (The Netherlands), and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"This recognition of BAJ's work by UNESCO, directly supported by 46 states, but also by the IFJ, EFJ and OCCRP, is a snook to the dictatorial regime of Mr. Lukashenko, who ordered the liquidation of our Belarussian affiliate," said EFJ General Secretary, Ricardo Gutiérrez. "BAJ continues to operate in exile. We are not impressed by the repression of the Belarusian authorities".
"We welcome UNESCO's decision to recognize the relentless and courageous fight for press freedom our friends at BAJ have been pursuing despite Lukashenko's constant attacks and pressure. BAJ 's victory is also a victory for all those unions that continue to resist pressure and oppression to defend media workers' rights. Today is a very important day for journalists' unions", said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger.