LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Belarus’ main organization of independent journalists has received a UNESCO prize for press freedom.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists has been named the winner of the 2022 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize – a $25,000 prize for “outstanding contributions to the defense or promotion of press freedom, especially in the face of danger,” UNESCO announced on Wednesday.
“For twenty-five years, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Prize has drawn the world’s attention to the bravery of journalists around the world who sacrifice so much in the search for truth and accountability. Once again, their example inspires us and reminds us of the importance of guaranteeing the right of journalists around the world to report freely and safely,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, in the press release. .
BAJ, a non-governmental association of journalists, has been operating in Belarus since 1995 and is the country’s largest NGO, with more than 1,300 members. He has won many prestigious awards for defending freedom of the press. The country’s Supreme Court ordered its liquidation last August as part of the government’s unprecedented crackdown on dissent that has engulfed the former Soviet nation after months of mass protests.
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Protests erupted in August 2020 after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term in a presidential election widely seen as rigged. Thousands of protesters have been arrested and authorities have cracked down hard on human rights groups and independent media, shutting down news outlets and jailing journalists.
BAJ’s liquidation order follows the jailing of around 30 journalists, raids of newspaper offices, the blocking of major independent media websites and the closure of the writers’ organization PEN Center run by Nobel Literature Laureate Svetlana Alexieveich, herself a BAJ member. .
“This award is dedicated to all those who pay a huge price to defend the principles of independent journalism in Belarus, where the situation of freedom of expression is the worst in all of Europe”, said the head of the BAJ, Andrei Bastunets, at The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Torture, beatings, prosecutions of independent media and journalists in Belarus have become systemic.”
Currently, 24 media professionals in Belarus are still behind bars, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences. Hundreds of Belarusian journalists have been subject to administrative arrests and searches. Bastunets, like many other Belarusian journalists, left the country after a series of raids and arrests.
The awards ceremony will take place on May 2 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, at the World Press Freedom Day Conference.
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