Today the Union of Lithuania’s Journalists’ (LŽS) Journalist Rights Defence and Monitoring Committee officially appealed to the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a proposal to take active action to defend journalists in neighbouring Belarus from baseless persecution.
LŽS chairman Dainius Radzevičius highlights that journalists’ safety is officially declared as a priority for Lithuanian foreign policy. Lithuania became actively engaged in journalists’ safety on the international level in 2011 during its chairing of the OSCE, choosing this as one of the main priorities for the agenda. “Our communities were strongly in favour of this initiative and constantly support journalists’ safety guarantees at the international level,” D. Radzevičius indicated in a letter to the Foreign Ministry.
Lithuanian journalists highlight that in recent days, journalists performing their professional duties in Belarus are not only arrested for various reasons, but are also punished with arrest and other measures. This is not only a baseless restriction of their freedoms, but also clear evidence that the current Belarussian government seeks to intimidate individuals who think critically and seek objective truth – both the journalist community and all of society.
The LŽS is particularly concerned that currently, the same fate befell journalist Denis Dudinski, a well-known Belarussian journalist, show host and actor. During the presidential elections, he publicly declared that he does not support the government, and so he was dismissed from Belarussian national television. Denis Dudinski has recently been commenting on the events in Belarus for the Lithuanian TV3 news media group, and Lithuanian journalists view Dudinski as their colleague. Dudinski was arrested by Special Forces on September 2, his relatives were not informed of his arrest, and on the following day behind closed doors and without legal defence in court, he was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment “for participation in unsanctioned events.”
The LŽS Journalist Rights Defence and Monitoring Committee believes that such assaults cannot be viewed as solely a domestic matter of Belarus, but a fundamental breach of international law. Belarus officially belongs to most international organisations which establish standards and recommendations on what freedoms and rights must be guaranteed for the news media and journalists. In 2018, an informal OSCE Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists was formed in Vienna, with 15 OSCE countries joining forces. The creation of this group was initiated by Lithuania with the support of France and Sweden.
In recent years, journalists face persecution for their professional activities, attempts are made against their lives, and there is rampant failure to punish crimes against journalists. Fifteen countries joined the OSCE Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists, with all of them actively engaged in journalist safety: Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, the UK, Montenegro, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, France, Sweden and Germany. We believe that Lithuania could initiate a combined action by these countries to defend journalists being persecuted in Belarus, and free individuals imprisoned based on political motives.
The topic of journalist safety was among Lithuania’s priorities during its membership of the UN Security Council in 2014-2015, with a Lithuanian initiated UN Security Council resolution on reporters’ safety in conflict zones being approved unanimously. Journalist safety is also a priority topic of the Lithuanian candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council in 2022-2024.
The LŽS established its Journalist Rights Defence and Monitoring Committee in 2019. This committee is currently headed by journalist Darius Lukoševičius, who is assisted by journalists working in various Lithuanian news media outlets and locations around the country: Birutė Davidonytė, Daiva Grikšienė, Morta Mikutytė, Regina Montvilienė, Rita Miliūtė, Tautvydas Vencevičius, Teodoras Biliūnas, Virginija Grigaliūnienė and Žydrūnė Jankauskaitė.