SALZININKAI (Lituanie) (AFP)
The head of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demonstrated on Thursday at the Belarusian border with dozens of journalists after the arrest of anti-regime blogger Roman Protasevich.
RSF chief Christophe Deloire and Belarusian and Lithuanian journalists have placed the portraits of their 21 colleagues imprisoned in Belarus on a fence along the EU border between Lithuania and Belarus.
Deloire called the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, “predators of press freedom” and said the strongman was acting like a “terrorist”.
Reporters Without Borders this week asked Lithuanian prosecutors to investigate on Sunday Lukashenko’s role in the hijacking of the plane carrying Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.
There has been no contact with any of them since their arrest, except for two supposedly “confession” videos released by Belarusian authorities.
“Lukashenko himself should be prosecuted, because what he did, what he clearly ordered and what he now justifies, is a hijacking with terrorist intentions and he is responsible for it” , Deloire told AFP, holding a photo of Protasevich.
He said the international community should pressure the regime to secure the journalist’s release.
“We will not forget you, we will continue to fight for you,” said Deloire.
– A “disastrous situation” –
Standing at the border, Lithuanian journalist Sarunas Cerniauskas said it was “as close as possible to the regime”.
“But we really want to come together when it comes to denouncing the things that are happening in Belarus and all the human rights violations and abuses of power,” said Cerniauskas, head of a journalism center. investigation in Lithuania.
Indre Makaraityte, who works for the Lithuanian national broadcaster, said: “Every dictator and every tyrant is afraid of publicity”.
Belarusian journalist Maksim Tsikhenia, correspondent for Belarusian media Charter 97, described the events in Belarus as “terrible”.
“By our presence, we want to declare the need to give freedom to independent journalists and independent journalism,” he said.
RSF ranked Belarus 158th out of 180 in the World Press Freedom Index 2021.
On Monday, amid a growing international outcry over the grounding of the Ryanair flight, Lukashenko approved legislation prohibiting journalists from providing real-time coverage of unauthorized mass protests.
Any Belarusian national – not just a journalist – is prohibited from covering an unauthorized rally or using crowdfunding to pay fines for violating the laws on mass gatherings, according to legal amendments published by state media .
Speaking in Vilnius earlier Thursday, Deloire said Belarusian journalists were facing a “dire situation”.
“We came here because we want to send a signal that we support journalists in Belarus,” he said.
© 2021 AFP