(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 26 November 2002 WAN press release:
Moscow, Russia, 26 November 2002
Belarusian Journalists Win Press Freedom Prize
The Belarusian Association of Journalists has been awarded the 2003 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers, for its courageous resistance to the repression of the media by President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
The award, announced by the Board of the Paris-based WAN at its meeting in Moscow, Russia, today, recognises the Association's outstanding defence and promotion of press freedom in the face of constant persecution.
In a statement, the WAN Board said: "The Belarusian Association of Journalists is fighting bravely against what is probably the most repressive regime in Europe. Many of the 900 members of the association have been jailed, beaten and repeatedly prosecuted. If it were not for the extraordinary resistance of this organisation, freedom of information and expression would most likely have been entirely eliminated in this country."
The statement added: "This is only the second time in the forty-year history of the Golden Pen that it has been awarded to a group, rather than an individual. It is perhaps symbolic, as the Belarusian regime engages in Soviet-style repression, that the first time was in 1969 when the Pen was given to 'the Czechoslovak press fighting for its freedom.'"
In making the award, WAN once more called on President Lukashenko to "cease the growing repression of free journalism."
In recent months, the BAJ has launched a campaign to abolish criminal defamation laws, has demanded the resignation of Information Minister Mikhail Padhainy for using his ministry to suppress freedom of expression, and has pressured authorities to further investigate the kidnapping and disappearance of cameraman Dmitry Savadsky.
The Association defends individual journalists and media organisations through its Law Centre for Media Protection, which supports and defends the independent press whenever its rights are abused. The Centre provides legal analysis of violations, legal consulting, representation of media organisation interests in courts, publications on media legal regulatory issues, drafts of alternative media laws, and conferences and seminars on media-related issues.
The Centre is in the process of expanding its activities, and plans to publish a series of brochures on legal education of journalists, and to prepare guides and references on the basic legal provisions that regulate media operation.
The Centre's experts have also acted as defence attorneys in trials against Belarusian journalists and media organisations: in the months leading up to President Lukashenko's September re-election, tax officials seized equipment from media organisations, froze their bank accounts, and installed a senior government official as head of the publishing house that prints most independent newspapers in the capital, Minsk.
The Golden Pen award will be presented during the World Newspaper Congress, World Editors Forum and Info Services Expo 2003 to be held next June in Dublin, Ireland. For more on the events, consult http://www.wan-press.org/dublin2003/
WAN, the global association of the newspaper industry, has awarded the Golden Pen annually since 1961. Past winners include Argentina's Jacobo Timerman (1980), Russia's Sergei Grigoryants (1989), China's Gao Yu (1995), and Vietnam's Doan Viet Hoat (1998). The 2002 winner was Geoffrey Nyarota of Zimbabwe.
The Paris-based WAN defends and promotes press freedom world-wide. It represents 18,000 newspapers; its membership includes 71 national newspaper associations, individual newspaper executives in 100 countries, 13 news agencies and nine regional and world-wide press groups.