I make this statement on behalf of ARTICLE 19 and the Belarusian Association of Journalists. We thank the High Commissioner for her report and share her concerns that “there is a human rights crisis of a magnitude unprecedented in Belarus”.
We have witnessed severe crackdowns on journalists, protesters, and human rights defenders in the country. Since 2020, at least 400 journalists have been detained, with eight currently in jail facing criminal charges. Moreover, two women journalists Daria Chultsova and Katsiaryna Andreeva were recently sentenced to two years in prison for reporting on protests. On 16 February, the authorities searched the houses and even seized the equipment of over 90 journalists and human rights defenders, including the office of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. This assault on media freedom is now so critical that many journalists are forced into self-censorship or to even flee the country.
We are monitoring the growing use of overbroad and vague anti-extremism legislation for prosecuting dissent. We are alarmed that the Belarusian authorities have announced plans to further restrict legitimate expression in the name of anti-extremism.
As the High Commissioner notes, there has been a serious lack of action to ensure accountability for human rights violations in Belarus. Where violations prevail, the UN must take action. As such, it is essential that this Council puts greater accountability mechanisms in place to collect and preserve evidence of crimes under international law, and ultimately ensure that perpetrators are held accountable.
We also urge Belarus to immediately end its harassment of those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including releasing all of those in arbitrary detention, and to fully and unconditionally implement the recommendations of the High Commissioner.