Belarus has revoked the accreditations of nineteen Belarusian journalists to work for foreign media outlets and deported two Russian cameramen in preparation of demonstrations relating to the results of the recent presidential election. This includes the BBC, whose press team said on Saturday that two journalists working in Minsk had their press accreditation revoked “with immediate effect.” They continued, tweeting that “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism. We call upon the Belarusian authorities to revoke this decision and allow our journalists to continue doing their jobs.”
The Associated Press was also targeted, since stating: “The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms this blatant attack on press freedom in Belarus. AP calls on the Belarusian government to reinstate the credentials of independent journalists and allow them to continue reporting the facts of what is happening in Belarus to the world.”
Earlier this week, Belarusian authorities made a similar play, detaining almost 50 journalists according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. British Foreign Secretary, Raab, said on Twitter, “I condemn the mass detention of over 50 journalists last night in Belarus, including from BBC, local & international media.” All 50 have since been released, excluding four who refused to hand over their phones.
On Friday, August 28th, Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, once again stated that the EU “does not recognize the result of the election… We once again express our full support to Belarus’ sovereignty and independence and condemn the violent repression of the Belarusian people.” He confirmed that the EU plans on sanctioning several officials in Belarus for participating in the “fraudulent” presidential election and for their actions against the protesters. “This designation shall include individuals at the high political level,” Borrell made clear.
Belarus’s actions in revoking these accreditations and imprisoning journalists for simply doing their job is sickening. Not only is the country doing its best to silence the media and its people from admitting and sharing the truth among each other, but they are also trying to prevent the rest of the world from learning about their decisions. This poor attempt at damage control, while blatantly ignoring the cause of the damage the leadership and authorities are trying to control, is dangerous and only serving to make the problem worse as the rest of the world continues to notice the dangers growing in Belarus. The only way to solve this is a clear and accurate recount of the election, by a third party like the European Union.
Meanwhile, the EU is doing its best to condemn Belarus. However, it simply does not seem to be enough. While their words are powerful, they are simply words. Belarus is able to continue to act against the EU’s wishes because it is calling the EU’s bluff. It simply does not believe that the EU will act against it. Only real, physical condemnation through economic or legal measures will force Belarus to face the facts and its mistakes. Cheap talk is meaningless. True action is required here.
The rest of the world, meanwhile, must similarly find an alternate way to make its condemnations more meaningful, likely through economic sanctions or by no longer recognizing Lukashenko as the leader of Belarus. Just like the EU, Belarus feels able to continue to act freely thanks to its ability to call the world’s bluff on any sort of punishment. By putting actions to these words, countries around the world will force Belarus to recognize its mistakes.
One of the most important things to be done is for journalists around the world to continue telling the truth and sharing important information about the election and protests both within and without Belarus. Although it may be far too dangerous for these disaccredited and deported journalists to do so, it just means that those with the means to do so have the duty to work that much harder to share this information. It is clear that this information creates a response throughout the world, and that is the key to causing the important change that needs to happen throughout Belarus. These journalists are the spark that will get the fire going, and ensure that the other players in Belarus and throughout the world will be able to continue fighting for human rights.
Meanwhile, the protesters in Belarus must continue fighting for what is right. While it is a tough fight, and a dangerous one, they are the ones drawing continual attention to Lukashenko’s fraudulent election. Without them, the news cycle would have long forgotten about Belarus and their election; however, thanks to them there has been a real response to the election.
Meanwhile, the European Union must follow through on Josep Borrell’s threats to formally sanction even high-level officials and successfully condemn the country. This is an incredibly important step for the EU as not only does it serve the purpose of sanctioning and punishing Belarus peacefully as a unified front, but it also sets a precedent for other countries. No longer will talk of sanctioning high-level officials seem like cheap talk as all these countries will have to do is look at Belarus, whose high-level officials were sanctioned for doing something similar. By proving that this talk is not cheap, the EU will forever confirm its status as a firm world leader, creating a stronger foundation against fascism.
Finally, the world beyond the EU should stop recognizing Lukashenko as the president of Belarus. If the world truly believes that this election was fraudulent, the only way to get the leaders of this country to acknowledge this is to officially recognize their president as illegitimate. This way, the state temporarily becomes delegitimized and cannot continue business as usual, forcing it into taking a more accurate recount of the election – potentially by a third party. Either Lukashenko and his party will be proven correct – and the world will once again recognize him as legitimate – or he will be ousted. Either way, the world will peacefully force the leaders of Belarus into the recount the world wants.
Belarus’ incredibly irresponsible actions continually place its citizens in danger in order to maintain its leaders’ power. It is up to the journalists, protesters, and world leaders to pressure the country into changing into something far better than it is.
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