IFJ Condemns Court Rejection of Press Rights Claim by Belarus Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today condemned

a decision by the Belarus Supreme Court rejecting a complaint by the Belarusian

Association of Journalists (BAJ) over a Ministry of Justice warning against them

in January.

The journalists' association say they are suffering legal

intimidation over their rights to support their own members by issuing press

cards and giving them legal advice and support.

But on 22 March the Supreme Court has upheld an official warning by the Ministry

of Justice which accused BAJ of breaching the media law by issuing press cards

when it is registered as an NGO and not a media organisation.  The Ministry also says the Association's

internal Legal Centre for Media Protection, which provides legal defence to BAJ

members is not constitutionally established.

"To charge a journalists' association with illegally

issuing press cards is absurd and a blatant attack on freedom of association for

journalists," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It is clear that the

government is putting legal shackles on the BAJ in response to its

uncompromising campaign for media freedom and journalists' rights."

BAJ faces closure if they fail to comply and receive a

second warning within the next twelve months. The complaint was rejected

despite the fact that the prosecutor failed to identify how the laws were

violated.

Zhanna Litvina, the BAJ Chairperson,  said the warning from the Ministry of Justice

is an attempt to put BAJ on the defensive. She said: "I think this is a way to

put us to the test, and it is directly connected to upcoming election campaigns."



The warning targets the key services BAJ provides to journalists

- a press card,  and legal assistance. According

to Andrei Bastunets BAJ Deputy Chairperson the legal actions "target directly

every BAJ member."

The European Federation of Journalists, a regional group of the

IFJ, will discuss this court decision at their forthcoming general meeting in

Istanbul. "This assault on the rights of journalists' unions is an attack on all

journalists unions," said Arne König, EFJ President.



In 2009 BAJ hosted a mission by the IFJ and other press

freedom groups to assess the progress towards media reform promised by Belarus

authorities. One recommendation of the mission, endorsed by 13 media freedom support

groups says that the authorities "must allow journalist organizations

to operate freely": http://www.ifj.org/fr/articles/for-free-and-fair-media-in-belarus

The BAJ, an affiliate of the IFJ has 1,200 members and is the

country's most vocal campaigner for press freedom and independent journalism.

It was formed in 1995. In 2004 it received the European Parliament's Sakharov

Prize for Freedom of Thought and regularly addresses governments and European

institutions in its efforts to raise awareness about the lack of press freedom

in Belarus.



For more information contact the IFJ at   +32 2 235 22 00
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

worldwide