We, Belarusian human rights organizations, strongly protest against the recognition of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) as an extremist formation and express solidarity with our colleagues.
On February 28th, the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus deemed the Belarusian Association of Journalists as an extremist formation. This decision has serious negative consequences both for the organization itself and its members, as well as for people who interact with it. Thus, any cooperation with BAJ can now be qualified as assisting an extremist organization and, consequently, entail criminal responsibility.
BAJ is one of the oldest human rights organizations in Belarus, the largest democratic association of independent media in Belarus, and a member of the International and the European Federation of Journalists. The organization is engaged in training and defending journalists' rights, monitoring the developments and trends in media, organizing events and campaigns, and coordinating the media community. For its activities, BAJ has repeatedly received various prestigious national and international awards, which once again confirms the importance of BAJ in the field of human rights.
We view the KGB decision as yet another step in the large-scale policy of arbitrary use of anti-extremist legislation by the Belarusian authorities in order to persecute civil society organizations and suppress civil activism.
National legislation on countering extremism is vague and abstract which leaves excessive latitude to state authorities when it comes to interpretation, allowing them to enforce legal provisions for the purpose of political repression. The state justifies the recognition of organizations carrying out peaceful activities to defend human rights and public interests as extremists with contrived reasons of national security and public order, while the true basis is the suppression of any dissent with the actions of the authorities.
It should be pointed out that decisions on recognition as extremist entities are taken extrajudicially by the State Security Committee without communicating to the public any particular rationale for such decisions. The simplified mechanism of recognizing organizations as extremist formations, as well as citizens' lack of access to information, jeopardizes any manifestations of self-organization and solidarity of citizens, including in response to gross violations of human rights.
We emphasize that the recognition of BAJ and other organizations as extremist entities constitutes an illegitimate restriction of the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression, including freedom of the press, because anti-extremism legislation does not comply with international human rights standards, in particular the principle of legal certainty, and has no legitimate purpose.
In light of the above, we demand that the Belarusian authorities:
- reverse the decision to recognize BAJ and other Belarusian civil society organizations, as extremist entities,
- bring the legislation on countering extremism in line with international human rights standards,
- stop the practice of recognizing organizations, and social initiatives as extremist without a reasonable justification, as well as the practice of recognizing materials aimed at informing the public about the human rights situation as extremist materials.
We call on human rights organizations and other civil society organizations from various countries to manifest their solidarity with BAJ. We also ask international bodies and organizations to properly assess human rights violations in Belarus, to address the Belarusian authorities, and to demand an end to the practice of arbitrarily recognizing organizations as extremist and deeming their resources as extremist materials.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Viasna Human Rights Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities