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Belarus Journalists Win World Press Freedom Prize

“By awarding the prize to BAJ, we are standing by all journalists around the world who criticise, oppose and expose authoritarian politicians and regimes,” said Alfred Lela, Chair of the Prize's international jury.

Press Freedom Prize
Protestors carrying the board with slogan, Fair elections. Tribunal. Freedom to the political prisoners, during a protest rally against Belarusian president Alexander Grigoryevich Lukashenko on 16 August in Minsk, Belarus

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has won the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize after the recommendation of the international award jury.

The BAJ was formed in 1995 as a non-governmental association of media workers with the objective of promoting freedom of expression and independent journalism in Belarus. It brings together over 1,300 associated journalists, and is a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).

BAJ’s Work Amid Crackdown and Violations

Since the disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020 that led to millions to protests in the following months, basic human rights have been in the crosshairs.

In March this year, the UN human rights office produced a Human Rights Council-mandated report on the situation in the country, which said the government’s continuing crackdown had violated the rights of hundreds of thousands.

“The examination not only lays bare the violations inflicted on people trying to exercise their fundamental human rights, but highlights the inability of victims to access justice,” said UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet.

In August 2021, following a police raid on the office of the BAJ, the Supreme Court of Belarus ordered the dissolution of the organisation, at the request of the country’s Ministry of Justice.

“By awarding the prize to the BAJ, we are standing by all journalists around the world who criticise, oppose and expose authoritarian politicians and regimes, by transmitting truthful information and promoting freedom of expression,” said Alfred Lela, Chair of the Prize‘s international jury, and founder and director of an Albanian media organisation.

“Today we salute and praise them; we find a way to say: we are with you, and we value your courage.”

The head of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, noted that for 25 years, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Prize “has been calling the world’s attention to the bravery of journalists around the world who sacrifice so much in the pursuit of truth and accountability.”

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

The $25,000 Prize recognises outstanding contributions to the defence or promotion of press freedom especially in the face of danger. It is named after Guillermo Cano Isaza, the Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá, Colombia, on 17 December 1986.

The prize is funded by the Guillermo Cano Isaza Foundation (Colombia), the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland), the Namibia Media Trust, Democracy & Media Foundation Stichting Democratie & Media (The Netherlands), and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The 2022 World Press Freedom Day Global Conference will take place from 2 to 5 May under the theme Journalism under Digital Siege.

The conference will discuss the impact of the digital era on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, access to information and privacy.

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