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UN experts decry ‘black hole’ for media freedoms in Belarus

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UN experts decry ‘black hole’ for media freedoms in Belarus

By Cecilia Ologunagba

Independent UN human rights experts have called for the immediate release of jailed social media activist Roman Protasevich in Belarus amid what they have described as a “black hole ” for media freedom in the country.

UN experts in a statement released on Monday expressed outrage at the arrest, allegations of torture and forced confession of opposition journalist Roman, who was arbitrarily detained on May 23, in a case that has aroused international condemnation.

Mr Protasevich, 26, was on board a Ryanair flight between Greece and Lithuania which was forcibly diverted to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, due to an alleged bomb threat.

He was arrested when passengers disembarked and was reportedly charged with inciting public disorder and social hatred, following the disputed presidential election in August 2020, which saw longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko return in power, triggering months of mass protests.

“The reckless manner in which Protasevich was arrested, reports that he was allegedly tortured in order to obtain a false confession, was denied access to his lawyer.

“In addition, fears that he might carry a heavy penalty testify to a total disregard for international human rights standards on the part of the Belarusian authorities.

Independent experts expressed their deep concern for Protasevich’s life and called for his immediate release, as well as that of other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained in Belarus .

“The scandalous way in which Protasevich was intercepted and arrested shows that there is no limit to what this government will do to silence the critics.

“This is a blatant example of harsh and relentless repression against all independent voices since the disputed results of the August 2020 elections,” they added.

Experts also expressed serious concerns over recent amendments to the media and mass assembly laws, which have allowed authorities to block the work of any media publishing content that “threatens national security.”

Likewise, the authorities can also block access to websites disseminating information “aimed at promoting extremist activities” or “liable to harm the national interest”.

They urged countries “to step up pressure on Belarusian authorities to end attacks on media freedom, release journalists, human rights defenders and others arbitrarily detained.”

They urged countries to also ensure independent, transparent and impartial investigations into all reported human rights violations committed in the context of the elections. (NAA)

(NAN)

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