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SPJ denounces arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich, calls for release


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5/24/2021


CONTACT:
Matthew T. Hall, SPJ National President, 619-987-7786, mhall@spj.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Director of Communications and Marketing, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists condemns the effective state-sanctioned hijacking of a civilian aircraft and the subsequent detention of journalist Roman Protasevich and calls for both his release and an immediate investigation.

Belarus has received international condemnation for detaining Belarussian and foreign journalists in the course of performing their duties of reporting on the post-election protests there. Protasevich’s detention appears to be the latest in many repeated and documented violations of international law.

“Politicians, human rights groups and journalism organizations should denounce Sunday’s grounding of a commercial plane and arrest of Protasevich in Minsk,” said SPJ National President Matthew T. Hall. “This chills freedom of speech and the press globally.”

Protasevich is the co-founder and editor of the NEXTA channel on Telegram, which has been used to disseminate news that the highly censored media in Belarus blocks. He left Belarus for Lithuania in 2019 to avoid arrest because of his reporting of anti-government demonstrations.

Protasevich was on his way back to Lithuania from Greece, where he attended a conference with a Belarussian opposition leader to discuss economic action against Belarus. The Belarus government has detained hundreds of Belarussian and foreign journalists in the course of performing their duties of reporting on the post-election protests in Belarus.

In February, the Associated Press reported that more than 400 journalists had been detained in Belarus in the previous six months and at least 10 have faced criminal charges and remain in custody.

Last week, 13 people were detained after a popular news site was raided and blocked by authorities.

These violations of international law and human rights in Belarus could make other governments and groups around the world believe they have license to disrupt international travel and trade to kidnap dissidents, activists or journalists.

“This is a dangerous precedent to set for independent media around the world," Hall said. "Independent media, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken rightfully says, are 'an essential pillar supporting the rule of law and a vital component of a democratic society."'

SPJ joins with other journalism, government and human rights groups in calling for the Belarus government to immediately release Protasevich and for a full and independent investigation into his detention.

Belarusian dictator Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has engaged in long-term persecution of independent journalism and political dissidents. The country is rated as Not Free by Freedom House at a level worse than Cuba and Iran, which are well-documented violators of press freedom.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the SPJ Foundation.

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