From: Alice Taylor
Human Rights Orgs Ask EU to Step Up Belarus Sanctions Amid Worsening Media Climate

Reporters Without Borders and a coalition of other human rights organisations have called on the European Commission, the Council of the European Union, and the European Council to adopt new sanctions for Belarus in light of the continued crackdown on the media, and civil society.

In an open letter addressed to Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission , Charles Michel, President of the European Council, David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, Antonio Costa, Portuguese Prime Minister, in charge of the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency, they note how it’s of “vital importance” to share their deep concerns over the six-month long crackdown on media in Belarus. They said that this is continuing despite warnings and condemnations from the international community.

Since August 2020, the coalition said they are aware of some 400 cases were journalists have been arrested for doing their wob covering the widespread peaceful protests agianst the fraudulence relection of Alexander Lukashenko as President.

Additionally, 62 cases of violence against journalists have been recorded and 11 are behind bars. The organisations say that arrrests are leading to frequent convictions with long sentences.

The EU previously adopted some sanctions against Belarus, targeting in particular those believed to be responisble for acts of repression and intimidation against media workers. But this, they said, is not enough.

The situation has deteriorated evern further as the authorities have pressed criminal charges against journalists working for the handful of remaining independent media outlets. Out of these, six are female, and have been charged with ‘organizing and preparingg events seriously undermining public order’. They face up to seven years in prison.

It’s obvious, they write, that these sanctions imposed by the EU are not working and are not preventing the latest authoritarian escalation by the Belarus authorities.

They urge the EU institutions and member states to adopt a number of resolutions on Belarus and the ongoing situation.

– Freeze all disbursement of financial assistance to the Government of Belarus under the European Neighbourhood Instrument (2) for as long as the common values and universal fundamental values of the rule of law and human rights are not respected;

– Continue imposing economic sanctions and other restrictive measures on individuals and entities implicated in or supporting violations of international electoral norms and international human rights law, especially violations of freedom of expression and freedom of the media;

– Suspend all or part of EU funding to the government of Belarus on the grounds of serious or persistent deterioration of democracy, human rights or the rule of law in Belarus. To this end, accelerate European Parliament and Council adoption of the regulation offering the Commission this possibility under its neighbourhood policy;

– Offer and increase assistance to threatened journalists and media workers, such as safe passage through their territory, refuge and medical assistance if necessary.

– Support independent media outlets working either in or for Belarus, through a dedicated mechanism.

On 17 December, the EU said it was ready to impose more sanctions on the country if the situation doesn’t improve. RSF and other signatories are now calling on them to keep their promise.

Other signatories included representatives from the Rory Peck Trust, Index on Censorship, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Free Press Unlimited, ARTICLE 19, IFEX, IPI, PEN America, PEN International, and WAN-IFRA.