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Belarus cracks down on journalists and publishers as oppressive new media laws bite, UN expert warns

GENEVA (10 August 2018) – A wave of raids and arbitrary arrests targeting independent publishers and journalists in Belarus highlights oppressive new rules against internet media in the country, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti.

“This action is aimed at obliterating the remnants of journalistic independence in Belarus, and follows oppressive new laws passed in June against independent internet media,” Haraszti said.

On 7 and 8 August, the authorities searched premises and blocked the operation of several independent media outlets, among them the online portal Tut.by, and the only independent news agency in Belarus, BelaPAN.

At least 18 journalists were arrested, including the Tut.by Editor-in-Chief, Maryna Zolatava, and journalists Ulyiana Babayed, Hanna Kaltyhina and Halina Ulasik. Belapan reporter Tatsyana Karavyanka was also detained. Employees of the media outlets were denied access to their offices.

The searches and arrests were prompted by an alleged violation of the Penal Code, which criminalises illegal access to computer information which may cause significant harm. The new rules introduce liability for not obtaining state licences for any web activities, and not identifying all users, including those on social media.

“What we are seeing is the sadly customary bogus criminalization of independent journalists. This may simply be a case of journalists occasionally using each other’s passwords to access the news service of the State-owned BelTA news agency.

“The allegation of ‘significant harm’ is disingenuous, given that BelTA is amply financed by taxpayers and not even a fraction of its revenues comes from subscriptions,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Haraszti expressed particular concern about the arrest of Ms. Karavyanka, who has regularly reported on the Special Rapporteur’s own findings, and has closely followed the concerns of UN human rights mechanisms regarding the situation in Belarus. 

“Silencing the last resources enabling Belarusians to learn about the UN’s human rights concerns is especially egregious given the Government’s claim of cooperation with the UN,” Haraszti said.

“It is also a blatant violation of the country’s obligation not to oppress its citizens for cooperating with the UN.

“In the sixth year of my mandate, the human rights situation in Belarus is actually getting worse. International vigilance must now be extended to the fate of those who keep the public informed,”  Haraszti concluded.

*This statement has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye.

ENDS

Mr. Miklós Haraszti (Hungary) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. In the 1970s, Mr. Haraszti was a founder of Hungary’s human rights and free press movement, and in the 1990s he was a Member of the Hungarian Parliament. From 2004 to 2010, he served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Since 2010, he has been a Professor at several universities teaching media democratization.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus

For more information and media requests please contact: Mr. Alexandre Girard (+41 22 917 9180 / agirard@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.