Vienna, May 24, 2021
by Edward Steen, Secretary-General
“The state terrorism organized to silence one person reminds us just how important reporters are.” Thus Vienna-based American historian of Central Europe, Timothy Snyder. “Without them… we have no chance of getting to the truth about oligarchy, war and elections, or about any issue that really matters.”
Prof Snyder expressed what should long since have been obvious even to the shallowest politicians in EU democracies. Free speech and an independent press are the lifeblood of free societies. It has taken this outrage, something out of a comic B-film if it were not so dangerous, for this understanding to hit the international headlines with proper force.
The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative William Horsley notes from London that the “shocking assault” on civil society and the rule of law is to be discussed by G7 leaders meeting in the UK in June.
Perhaps significant – if it is not too late – is that Tom Tugendhat, influential chairman of the UK parliamentary foreign affairs committee, has urged the suspension of both the nearly-completed Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and of the Yamal energy pipeline which help support both Vladimir Putin and the “tyrannous regime” in Belarus.
Horsley reports that the heads of the parliamentary foreign affairs committees of eight countries – the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the UK, and the USA – have called not just for additional sanctions on the Lukashenko regime, and the immediate release of all political prisoners in Belarus, as well as the suspension of the country’s right to use Interpol and other international organisations “to attack democracy in Europe”.
The European Federation of Journalists has reported that the number of journalists behind bars in Belarus has risen to 29 – almost double the number held just a few days ago. The Federation has echoed the demand to release all of them, and called for an official international mission including the EU, CoE, and the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) to visit those in prison and launch an international investigation into all those involved in the repression of journalists and media in Belarus.