Statement Delivered by Minister Thomas Byrne, T.D., at Arria Meeting on Media Freedom in Belarus
Statement22 January 2021
Thank you Minister Reinsalu for convening today’s very important meeting on media freedom in Belarus.
Almost six months on from the fraudulent elections in Belarus, the human rights situation is appalling.
Today, we have had graphic and terrible first-hand accounts from our brave briefers, particularly journalists Gareth Browne and Stanislau Ivashkevich. They highlight the stark reality on the ground.
Despite repeated calls from the international community for an end to repression, we have seen the use of State violence against peaceful protesters, indiscriminate detentions, and curtailments on the freedom of assembly and media freedoms. Ireland unreservedly condemns these violations and calls for their immediate cessation.
Ongoing and grave violations of media freedoms are a particular cause for concern. Freedom of expression and association are fundamental human rights guaranteed to all and are an essential foundation of an open, democratic and inclusive society.
The international community must continue to press the Belarusian authorities to respect these fundamental freedoms and to insist, unequivocally, on the protection of the Belarusian people’s human rights.
I am deeply troubled that according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists there have been 477 detentions of journalists last year. They were detained for doing their jobs. Reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, which includes journalists and media workers are also very concerning, and must be appropriately investigated.
Ireland again calls for the Belarusian authorities to allow journalists and media organisations to conduct their important work free from harassment, intimidation and fear. We also call for an end to indiscriminate detentions and for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been unjustly detained, including journalists and political prisoners.
We are also deeply concerned by the revocation of the accreditations of foreign media personnel, which we have heard about today. It is vital that the people of Belarus have access to impartial, independent information about events in their country. Stripping international journalists of their accreditation undermines the ability of domestic and international observers to have an objective view of the events on the ground. The Belarusian authorities need to revoke this decision and allow open access to international journalists.
State media also have a role to play. Public service broadcasting provides an invaluable service to democracy and is critical to ensuring an informed citizenry. State media have a responsibility to report truthfully and honestly, including on human rights violations where they happen.
Partial and total internet shutdowns, as well as targeted content blocking, continue to occur in Belarus and are totally unacceptable. Ireland urges Belarus to refrain from imposing such restrictions, and to ensure access to a free internet.
As a founding member of the Freedom Online Coalition, Ireland believes that the human rights we enjoy must also be protected online. The Internet and social media have revolutionised the free flow of information and knowledge, and have played an important role in documenting human rights violations and abuses.
The future of Belarus is for its people to decide, without external influence. To do that, they must access the information provided by journalists and media organisations who can carry out their work free from fear or without intimidation.
Finally, I want to reaffirm Ireland’s unwavering support for a sustainable, democratic and peaceful resolution of the current crisis. The OSCE Chair-in-Office has maintained the offer to facilitate a meaningful national dialogue. This offer is made in good faith and we again urge the Belarusian authorities to grasp this opportunity.