US-based media watchdog blasts Belarusian authorities for cracking down on independent press 16:11, 15/03/2005
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based independent, non-profit organization dedicated to defending reporters around the globe, accused the Belarusian authorities of “decimating the independent press” last year.
In its annual report released on March 14, the media watchdog lashed out at the Belarusian government for its controversial treatment of non-state media outlets. “Lukashenko began tightening his grip on the news media early in 2004, ordering the justice ministry in February to crack down on non-governmental organizations ahead of the vote [October’s parliamentary elections and national referendum],” according to the report.
The organization accused “prosecutors, tax police, and other government regulators” of unleashing “a campaign of harassment and intimidation against journalists, opposition activists, and human rights monitors who criticized Lukashenko and his repressive policies.”
The CPJ criticized the Belarusian government for “strangling the country’s opposition and independent media” in the months before the elections and referendum.
In its scathing report, the media watchdog noted the harassment of foreign journalists in Belarus. In particular, Mikhail Podolyak, deputy editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Vremya, was found guilty of libel and deported to his native country of Ukraine. In addition, the authorities revoked the accreditation of journalists at the Minsk bureau of Russia’s Rossiya TV channel and detained Pavel Sheremet, a reporter with another Russian TV network, Channel One, on what many regard as ungrounded charges.
The report also focuses on the still-unsolved murder of Veronika Cherkasova, a staff writer with the Minsk-based private weekly Salidarnasts, who was stabbed to death in her apartment days after October’s referendum.
The CPJ noted that press conditions deteriorated across the world. “Authoritarian rulers strengthened their hold on power in many former Soviet republics in 2004. Their secretive, centralized governments aggressively suppressed all forms of independent activity, from journalism and human rights monitoring to religious activism and political opposition.”
The organization expressed a high opinion of the state of the media freedom in the Baltic states and welcomed the recent events in Ukraine.