Belarus has ordered the closure of the country’s largest independent journalists' organization as a crackdown on media and civil society intensifies following last year's disputed presidential election.
The order to liquidate the Belarusian Association of Journalists came on August 27 after the Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit filed by the Justice Ministry.
The formal reason for the liquidation order is that the association did not correct alleged violations identified by the Justice Ministry during an inspection launched in June.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Specifically, two of the association's six branches allegedly ended their lease contracts. The association denied this but was unable to provide supporting documents because its office was sealed after searches and confiscation of equipment in July.
The head of the association, Andrey Bastunets, said its work will go on.
“We will continue to do our job, regardless of the decision of the courts, which clumsily fulfill the political order of the authorities,” Bastunets told the Associated Press. “Expanding the space for freedom of speech has been the mission of the organization for over a quarter of a century, but now the darkest times have come in Belarus.”
The Belarusian Association of Journalists has been active since 1995 and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists. It has more than 1,300 members who work in radio and television and for various publishing companies.
Since 1997 it has monitored violations of freedom of expression and media rights. It has a network of correspondents throughout Belarus who collect information about the state of the media in their regions.
Security forces last month raided the offices and homes of several independent journalists across Belarus, including the premises of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Minsk, as part of a sweep targeting the media.
The association said last week that 33 media employees were behind bars.
The government also has blocked the websites of major independent media, such as BelaPAN, a private news agency.
Belarus also canceled accreditation for foreign news organizations after massive protests began in August 2020 following a presidential election that gave authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office.