by William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative
The Association of European Journalists, a professional body of journalists active in more than 20 countries, is deeply concerned about the unexplained death of Aleh Byabenin, one of Belarus’ leading journalists and a founder of the Charter 97 website. The circumstances of his death have given rise to legitimate suspicions of foul play. The lack of reliable information and lack of evidence of a credible investigation into the death have given rise to doubts about the independence and professionalism of the response so far by the Belarus authorities. We call on the Belarus authorities to fulfil their solemn obligations to provide full, speedy and verifyable information about the death of this prominent defender of human rights and respected journalist. We are alarmed and dismayed at persistent reports in recent times of intimidation, harassment and other acts of violence carried out against Mr Byabenin, other members of Charter 97, and numerous other journalists in Belarus.
This message also calls on the relevant governmental and judicial authorities in Belarus to respond promptly and fully to the questions and concerns about this case which have been expressed publicly by international journalists and human rights organisations. As the Council of Europe has repeatedly and urgently affirmed, there can be no trust in standards of human rights protection and no real democracy as long as journalists suffer intimidation and violence, and as long as they remain prey to abuses of state power including impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists because of their work in reporting on matters of proper public concern.