We would like to thank you and other sponsors for organising this timely meeting and commend the briefers for their courage and leadership.
The European Union stands with the Belarusian people who are relentlessly and fearlessly expressing their democratic aspirations by exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, both online and off-line.
We deplore that these peaceful aspirations have been met with an unprecedented level of repression. It is clear that the August 2020 elections were neither free nor fair and that Aleksandr Lukashenko has no democratic legitimacy. It is highly regrettable that the Belarusian authorities have not accepted international offers of mediation and that the human rights situation continues to deteriorate.
Attacks against media pluralism and independence are some of the many manifestations of the on-going repression. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), there have been 477 detentions of journalists in 2020. Criminal proceedings have been instituted against 15 media workers and nine of them are currently held in custody. At the same time, access to the Internet in Belarus continues to be regularly blocked and access to a large number of websites continues to be restricted. The recent raid on the news agency BelaPAN editorial office and criminal charges brought against members of the Press Club Belarus and journalist Andrei Aleksandrov show the intensification of repressions.
These actions aim at silencing journalists and at impeding the wider Belarusian society and the international community from getting independent reporting on the protests and the abuse of peaceful protesters’ rights.
Belarusian authorities must fully comply with all their regional and international obligations and commitments related to freedom of opinion and expression and media freedom, including on the safety of journalists. We urge them to immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained persons, including journalists, bloggers and media workers, to restore all revoked accreditations, to repeal entry bans, to ensure access to the Internet and online media platforms, and to allow free circulation of the media. A thorough, transparent and impartial investigation of all attacks against journalists and media actors in Belarus must be conducted.
The European Union has reacted firmly to these events, and we have imposed sanctions against a total of 84 Belarusian officials, including Aleksandr Lukashenko, responsible for violence, repression and electoral fraud, as well as 7 entities.
At same time, we invite Belarus to dialogue. We call on the Belarusian authorities to engage with the OSCE and take up the standing offer of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office to facilitate dialogue. We are ready to substantially step up our political engagement, sectoral cooperation and financial assistance to Belarus, provided its authorities respect principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights and inter alia stop all repression and abuses of the human rights of persons engaged in the prodemocracy movement, independent media and representatives of the civil society.