Remarks at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Media Freedom in Belarus (via VTC)

Ambassador Richard Mills
Acting Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 22, 2021


Thank you, Mr. Deputy Minister. I have to begin by thanking the briefers for their compelling, sobering, and, in some places, heartbreaking statements today. The world needs to hear their voices. I doubt there is a person anywhere in the world who cares about human rights, who cares about democracy, who hasn’t been inspired by the Belarusian peoples fight and continued peaceful calls to determine their own future.

As we heard from the briefers, journalists in Belarus have worked in a hostile environment for many years. Journalists have been subject to arrests, arbitrary violence, harassment. But it’s clear, the government’s intimidation of journalists has significantly intensified following the clearly fraudulent presidential elections last August. And in an attempt to suppress these challenges to those fraudulent election results, Belarusian authorities have resorted to arbitrary arrests and detentions. While we’ve heard about stifling media organizations of their licenses and journalists of their credentials is, again, shocking.

The Government of Belarus is reverting to such oppressive, drastic means to hide the truth to avoid its own accountability for human rights violations. But what’s inspiring, what’s inspired me listening today, is hearing how, that even in the face of this, brave journalists continue to play an essential role in covering, uncovering the facts about the fraudulent election last August and the ongoing crackdown against peaceful protesters and civil society. The United States joins others who have spoken in applauding the courage of independent journalists and media workers in Belarus who continue to do their work in the face of such grave and personal risks.

Let me add our voice as well, the United States is particularly troubled by the long-standing detention without charges of Ihar Losyk, as well as the recent detentions of Andrei Alyaksandrau, the Press Club Belarus associates, and others. These are really just the latest examples of the Belarusian authorities’ contempt for media freedom. The United States calls on the Government of Belarus to immediately release all journalists that have been imprisoned for their work.

We also want to highlight in this forum the Ukraine National Police’s recent release of evidence that indicates Pavel Sharamet may have been targeted by the Belarusian authorities for assassination as early as 2012, even after he had been forced out of his homeland due to repression. He was tragically killed by a car bomb in Kyiv on July 20, 2016. His close friend, fellow journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, disappeared in July 2000, and we continue to call for a transparent investigation into his disappearance.

Protecting media freedom in Belarus is now more important than ever to shine a light on what is happening in that country. The United States reiterates its call for Belarusian officials to respect media freedom, stop intimidating and harassing journalists, and release all of those who have been unjustly detained. Belarus should also remove limits on access to the internet and independent media websites.

Belarus must immediately cease using the press accreditation process as a means to stifle free speech and to apply political pressure. And the United States calls on the authorities to stop intimidation by imposing excessive fines and, as we’ve heard, through the improper use of audits and tax laws.

Let me end by just saying, the United States stands with the Belarusian people, and we support the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Belarus. We are deeply concerned by Russia’s willingness to intervene and we are watching Russia’s actions closely, including its insertion of journalists from Russian state-controlled media into Belarusian state-controlled outlets, replacing Belarusian journalists and Belarusian technical personnel.

We renew our calls for Belarusian authorities to grant the UN Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus access to the country, in order to conduct a full inquiry.

Again, thank you, Mr. Deputy Minister, and thank you to our briefers.