Remarks by Ambassador Barks-Ruggles on Media Freedom in Belarus 

Remarks on Media Freedom in Belarus

Delivered by Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles
Senior Bureau Official for International Organization Affairs

At the Human Rights Council Side Event
“Media Under Attack in Belarus”

June 23, 2021

It is my honor to address you on behalf of the United States on the topic of media freedom and freedom of expression in Belarus.

The United States continues to be deeply concerned by the Belarusian authorities’ continuing attacks on human rights and international law.

Despite being in the heart of Europe, Belarusians have not enjoyed the freedoms that many of their neighbors enjoy.

And conditions have only worsened in the past year as Lukashenka has cemented his legacy as a dictator at the head of an authoritarian, unrepresentative government.

His regime recently shocked the international community when it forcefully diverted a Ryanair flight—traveling between two EU member states—to arrest journalist Raman Pratasevich and his companion Sofia Sapega.

The regime hit a new low on June 14 by parading Pratasevich, clearly under duress, before a press conference.

All told, these incidents are a worrying sign that the regime is willing to take extreme measures to stay in power, including further silencing the media.

Since the fraudulent August 2020 elections, the regime has not only cracked down on peaceful protesters, youth, and women activists— some 400 journalists and media workers in Belarus have faced various forms of repression.

The regime has heavily restricted access to information.  And it continues to lead a brutal and sustained campaign to target and harass journalists—including those from foreign media organizations.

The regime now holds over 500 political prisoners, many of them in squalid and harsh conditions.  Many are reportedly being tortured.

The United States calls on the Belarusian authorities to release now—and without conditions—all those unjustly detained or imprisoned.

This includes the many journalists and media workers who have been arbitrarily detained.

We also call on the Belarusian authorities to hold accountable those responsible for the despicable attacks on journalists and media workers.

This includes repealing the passage of recent laws that penalize journalism and restrict free speech.

What are the authorities afraid of? What are they afraid might be revealed if the truth is shared?

I know I am in good company when I say today, journalists in Belarus must be able to enjoy a free, safe, and enabling environment to work without interference.

Media freedom is an essential part of democratic societies.  Access to uncensored information is vital for citizens, especially in turbulent times.

There should be no doubt the United States and people across the world are with the people of Belarus.

That is why, together with our partners and allies, we have sanctioned Belarusian officials involved in human rights violations and abuses.

On June 21, the United States, the UK, Canada, and the European Union took additional coordinated action by announcing new sanctions on Belarusian officials to promote accountability and demonstrate our commitment to supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus.

We will continue to bring new tools of pressure to bear, as needed.

We will continue to bolster assistance to those advocating for democracy and standing up for human rights in Belarus.

And we fully support renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation in Belarus—we thank Anais Marin for her continued service in that role.

The situation in Belarus concerns us all.

The recent Ryanair incident makes it clear the Lukashenka regime’s disregard for international norms can threaten security in Europe and beyond.

I’d like to close by reaffirming the United States is committed to confronting this threat in coordination with likeminded countries.

And by renewing our call on the regime to pursue dialogue with all sectors of society to hold free and fair elections.

Thank you.