Statement by Foreign Minister of Estonia Mr Urmas Reinsalu at UN Security Council high-level Arria meeting on Media Freedom in Belarus

Dear colleagues, distinguished briefers, audience online and dear people of Belarus,

The presentations we heard today confirm a sad truth – the ruling regime in Belarus continues to use brutal violence against its citizens, peaceful protesters who stand up for their rights and dignity. The attitude of the authorities was revealed by a recently leaked recording where the Deputy Minister of the Interior of Belarus refers to the need to use lethal force against protesters and to send an “excess number of people” to prison camps.

We have heard how representatives of free media – journalists, cameramen, bloggers – have been turned into a target for the government’s repressions along with the protesters. We have been alarmed to learn about the authorities of Belarus harassing, severely beating and detaining journalists and other media workers. Restricting media freedom includes the widespread use of administrative detention and criminal charges against journalists. International journalists working in Belarus have found their accreditations revoked. This crackdown has been intentionally targeting journalists to deny the people in Belarus and all of us the right to access to information.

All these developments are a matter of serious concern at international level – a free press is vital for human rights, justice and sustainable development – and thus also for peace. Independent media is an integral part of resilient, inclusive and democratic societies. With their findings and stories, journalists can contribute to future investigations of crimes committed. A free press can play a key role in helping prevent crises from turning into full-blown conflicts. We have seen the pattern whereby the crackdown on press freedom is often coupled with a broader violations on human rights.

There are voices who say that all we have heard today are unfounded claims and speculations. The evidence, however, is overwhelming. An independent report made under the OSCE Moscow Mechanism has provided evidence of the falsification of elections and violation of human rights on a massive scale. The report also drew attention to continued attacks on the freedom of the media. Reporters Without Borders has described the situation as an “unprecedented crackdown” and recognised Belarus as Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists.

These alarming reports and figures cannot be ignored. The recurrent violence and repressions against journalists must end immediately, impunity must be fought and all those imprisoned for political reasons, including journalists, media workers and bloggers, must be released unconditionally.

Just as the people of Belarus do not tire of standing up for their basic human rights and resisting violence, the international community must maintain its focus on what is going on in Belarus, monitor the situation closely and take action. Those responsible for attacks must be held to account. It is necessary to establish an independent international mechanism to investigate the crimes committed. Citizens’ initiatives in Belarus have recorded a large amount of evidence of the use of violence by the authorities against peaceful protesters. Evidence of serious human rights violations needs to be stored for independent prosecution.

Estonia will not tire of raising human rights, including respect for media freedom, at international fora.

In that context I cannot but address a matter of deep concern to the International community – the detention of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the Russian Federation. We join the call of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for Mr Navalny’s immediate release and for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law.

Thank you for your attention.