The International Federation of Journalists and its European organisation the European Federation of Journalists today congratulated the Belarussian Association of Journalists following the announcement that the group is to receive the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize.
“This is thoroughly deserved and a tribute to the power of union solidarity in the fight for press freedom,” said Aidan White, IFJ and EFJ General Secretary. “The BAJ has been at the forefront of the struggle for journalists’ and media rights in a country whose attitude to independent journalism remains stuck in a time warp from the Soviet era.”
For ten years the country has suffered, says the IFJ, under the authoritarian and intolerant administration of President Alexander Lukashenko, which has marginalised and persecuted dissent. During this period journalists have been beaten, fined, imprisoned and disappeared while independent media are harassed and closed down. “In this atmosphere, joining the BAJ has become a statement of protest and an act of bravery in itself,” said White.
A referendum earlier this month which granted Lukashenko leave to stand again for President in 2006 was followed by days of violent demonstrations. Last week the body of independent journalist, Veronika Cherkasova was found brutally murdered in suspicious circumstances.
The IFJ hopes that the prize not only provides essential moral support to the BAJ and Belarussian journalists, but will also remind European governments of the need to apply pressure on the regime for urgent reforms.
The Sakharov prize has been awarded annually by the European Parliament since 1988 for “achievements in the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in safeguarding the rights of minorities, respect for international law and development of democracy and implementation of the rule of law”.
“We are proud that one of our members has received this recognition,” said White. “The Association provides a working model of how journalists can best organise themselves for self-protection and can inspire resistance in the name of democracy and human rights.”
The Belarussian Association of Journalists has been affiliated to the IFJ since 1997 and is one of the Federation’s 163 national unions and associations in 117 countries and representing more than 500,000 journalists.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries