Today, we mark the International Human Rights Day and where human rights are respected, so is the freedom of speech. On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was the first international document in history to universally recognise that all people, from their birth, have equal rights and freedoms (the document has been translated to 360 languages). The United Nations suggested commemorating the initiative on December 10, 1950.
Unfortunately, one can only conclude that authoritarianism is once again rearing its ugly head around the world and with this, there has been an increase in human rights abuses. Human rights abuses in neighbouring Belarus are increasing with every passing day. The Lithuanian journalist community is watching with concern as the effort is made to employ repressions to drown the last islands of independent media in Belarus. Over there, journalists are imprisoned, and Lithuania’s journalists feel their pain. Thus, in solidarity with the journalists incarcerated in Belarussian jails, the Lithuanian journalist community has decided to dedicate the Hope of Freedom Prize to them.
December is a month when the time comes to reflect on the year that has passed. Without a doubt, this year will be remembered in the world as a year of the terrible pandemic; there will long be writings and discussions on our societies’ struggle against the COVID pandemic. Nevertheless, the next struggle, which is also happening just fifty kilometres from Vilnius, has already become another symbol of the concluding year. Unexpectedly for many, the Belarussians rose up against injustice and, unexpectedly for many, continue their fight despite A. Lukashenko’s brutal repressions. At the front lines of this effort, we find Belarussian journalists. Belarussian colleagues, who suffered in carrying out their professional duty, will now on be awarded the Hope of Freedom Prize. Farmer and member of parliament Kazys Starkevičius is the author and patron if this idea.
To award, this prize, the Lithuanian Union of Journalists and Lithuanian Journalists’ Society have assembled a commission led by Vaiva Žukienė. The commission chairwoman stated that “This prize is a symbol of solidarity, a sign of respect for our colleagues, who are persecuted for professionally carrying out their work, undertaking the main duty of a journalist – upholding the public right to receive impartial, independent information. It is crucial to send the message that the journalist community is watching and taking into account the events in Belarus and is supportive of our colleagues, who are fighting for the public right to know.”
With a majority vote, the commission chose to recognise the following Belarussian journalists with the Hope of Freedom Prize: Ekaterina Borisevich, Elena Tolkachova, Tatiana Korenkova, Ekaterina Andreeva, Darya Chulcova. Belarussian journalists organisations nominated this group of journalists.
Ekaterina Borisevich and Elena Tolkachova work for the TUT.BY news portal, Tatiana Korenkova works at IA BelaPAN, while Ekaterina Andreeva and Darya Chulcova work for the TV channel BelSat. Several facts bound these journalists. They work at independent news media outlets, and while performing their journalistic duties, they were arrested and jailed. Five Hope of Freedom Statuettes alongside EUR 1,000 will be awarded to the journalists. The statuettes symbolise the resolve of Lithuanian journalists to support the journalists of independent Belarus. As the award’s patron Kazys Starkevičius accurately observed: “No chains can break our pursuit of freedom…”
Lithuanian journalists still struggle to believe that such brutal arrests of journalists are happening so close to us. Even more unfortunate is how these repressions are only becoming more severe. As Lithuanian Union of Journalists chairman Dainius Radzevičius observed, “Working as a true journalist in Belarus today is akin to heroism, just as is being an active citizen or human rights defender. By telling the truth to their countrymen every day, our colleagues are the true guardians of democracy. And this is a most important value, which has no borders and Lithuania’s journalists stand in solidarity with their Belarussian colleagues. The prize is a clear symbol.”
Let this prize be awarded to courageous women because namely courageous and resolute women are the symbol of this Belarussian revolution. According to patron Kazys Starkevičius, “With this prize, I once again stand in favour of Freedom, Hope, Faith and Love. The prize is for all those who publicise facts. For those who spoke about what is happening in Minsk and Brest at the moment. For those who are fighting for the present and the future. Just as for those who fought in 1991, for those later in the Maidan, in Tbilisi. Let us remember that we too stood for this in Kaunas, Vilnius, Klaipėda, Medininkai and everywhere else. It is a reminder to everyone who showed and spoke and continue to speak the truth about everything from all corners of the world. Despite deadly threats. This is a prize for journalism and the freedom of speech.”
And Human Rights Day is an excellent time to announce the laureates of this prize. Fighting for human rights is fighting for freedom of speech. Do not give up, our dear journalist sisters and brothers in Belarus. The Lithuanian journalist community will always support the freedom of speech in Belarus and will support you!