Five Belarusian journalists and media institutions awarded Fritt Ord's Free Media Awards for 2021

August 12 2021

The situation for independent journalists and media outlets in Belarus is alarming and, since the presidential election in August 2020, it has been dramatic. This year’s Free Media Awards, which are earmarked for journalists and media all across Eastern Europe, are being awarded to five journalists, investigative editorial boards and institutions in Belarus, the most dangerous country in Europe for those who work in the media.

The prize laureates are journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, the news portal, the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), journalist Natallia Lubneuskaya, and journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva together with the photographer Darya Chultsova. The five recipients are being awarded the prizes for their courage in investigating, covering and documenting the past year’s political crises in Belarus. The Fritt Ord Foundation awards the press prizes in collaboration with the ZEIT Foundation of Germany.

The jury that selected the prize laureates writes: “We are awarding all the press prizes to Belarusian journalists and media outlets in recognition of their unparalleled efforts and courage throughout this dramatic year. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the authorities arrested 480 journalists last year. Collectively, the journalists served 1200 days in prison. Regrettably, the situation has moved further in the wrong direction in 2021. We are seeing systematic attacks on independent media. We have not only witnessed many new cases of imprisonment, fines for ‘violations of rules on mass assembly’, ‘disobeying the police’ and ‘violations of laws on mass media’, but also restrictions and forced closures of activities run by major media outlets and organisations that advocate for the rights of journalists, including BAJ itself. According to BAJ, 29 journalists and media leaders are currently imprisoned in Belarus. With this year’s Free Media Awards, we want to draw attention to these injustices, to support Belarusian journalists’ struggle for a free press and to honour the impressive work they have done under such difficult conditions.”

“The five recipients of this year’s Free Media Awards have brought us some of the most important, courageous journalism produced under the Belarusian dictatorship in the past 18 months. The fact that some of the laureates have been imprisoned bears witness to the grave consequences currently affecting Belarusian citizens who are fighting for social rights, freedom of expression and democracy”, remarks Knut Olav Åmås, executive director of the Fritt Ord Foundation.

About the prize laureates:
Investigative journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich of the news portal is receiving the Free Media Award for her coverage of the lawsuits and sentences used by Lukashenko’s regime against peaceful demonstrators. Katsiaryna Barysevich’s courageous involvement can best be exemplified by her articles on the Raman Bandarenka case. After unmasking the methods used by the regime that resulted in Bandarenka’s death, she was imprisoned and found guilty. Razam, the Belarusian Association in Norway, is among the organisations that nominated her for the award.

The news portal, which was nominated by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights House Foundation, is also receiving a Free Media Award. The independent news portal has been the most read news outlet in Belarus, earning it international recognition. Last year, the group made films of the protests that were shared with media outlets the world over. The authorities’ sanctions against the news portal have intensified; their status as a news portal has been withdrawn and the journalists have lost their accreditation. On 21 May this year, the portal was blocked following a decision taken by the authorities, and 13 employees were imprisoned.

The Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) is receiving a Free Media Award for its prolonged and indefatigable efforts to promote and protect the rights of journalists. Along with Reporters Without Borders and other organisations, since August 2020, BAJ has documented the protests in Belarus, publishing news about violations of freedom of the press and attacks on journalists. In response to this work, BAJ itself has been persecuted by the authorities and threatened with closure. BAJ has been an important source of support for journalists, and a significant source of information for international media. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee nominated the organisation.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova are joint recipients of a Free Media Award for their intrepid live coverage of the protests against Lukashenko’s regime. For their journalistic activities, they have been sentenced to two years in prison. They worked for Belsat, a Polish television channel aimed at Belarus. Belsat’s mission is to produce independent news about developments in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities have never accredited Belsat, allowing the authorities opportunities to persecute Belsat’s employees.

Natallja Lubnewskaya reports on people who have been oppressed by the authorities, and on the random arrests made at peaceful protests and demonstrations. She has also reported on the outbreak of Covid-19 in Belarus, which was initially denied by the authorities, then subsequently ignored. Natallja Lubnewskaya, who works for the weekly newspaper Nasha Niva, is receiving a Free Media Award for her moving texts and her perseverance in the face of obstacles. In August 2020, she was shot in the knee by the police, requiring her to spend more than a month in hospital. Afterwards, she resumed her work without hesitation.

The prize laureates were selected by a jury consisting of six individuals: Ane Tusvik Bonde, senior advisor, the Human Rights House Foundation; Alice Bota, Moscow correspondent for Die Zeit; Juri Durkot, Ukrainian journalist and translator; Guri Norstrøm, foreign correspondent at the National Broadcasting Corporation (NRK); Martin Paulsen, PhD, non-affiliated researcher on Eastern Europe; and Silvia Stöber, freelance journalist based in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus.

Since 2016, the press prizes awarded by Fritt Ord and the ZEIT Foundation have been handed out as the “Free Media Awards” to independent journalists, editors and media platforms in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Armenia. The prize laureates have been nominated by international institutions and experts on Eastern Europe.

See former prize recipients here.