(NEW YORK)—PEN America today sharply criticized the KGB of Belarus’ decision published on March 7 to designate the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) as an “extremist organization.” The designation, PEN America said, underscores the Belarusian authorities’ escalating attacks on independent journalism and free expression since Aleksander Lukashenka’s 2020 reelection, internationally regarded as “fraudulent.”

“The Belarusian KGB’s decision to designate the Belarusian Association of Journalists as an extremist organization is a new escalation against free expression in the country,” said Polina Sadovskaya, PEN America’s Eurasia and Advocacy Director. “Amid the concerning legal trend of labeling human rights and media organizations as ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirables,’ the Belarusian authorities are taking a further step to repress independent media. Since the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, authorities have—under Aleksander Lukashenka rule—relentlessly attacked journalists, writers, protesters, cultural figures, and other members of civil society. We are in solidarity with BAJ and all journalists and writers in Belarus, and we urge the authorities to end their repression of independent media. World leaders must collectively reject Lukashenka’s human rights abuses and support the freedom to write for all Belarusians.”

The Belarusian KGB labeled BAJ an “extremist formation” on February 28 and the decision was made public on March 7. In August 2021, the Supreme Court of Belarus agreed to the request of the Ministry of Justice to liquidate BAJ. In November 2021, the Ministry of Information blocked access to BAJ’s website. Despite legal efforts to silence it, BAJ has continued its work.

The Belarusian Association Journalists is a non-state, non-partisan association of media workers that promotes free expression and independent journalism in Belarus. The association was founded in 1995 and has most recently reported 1,300 members. BAJ is a member of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and European Federation of Journalists (EFJ). The association has been recognized by several international awards for its work including the Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought in 2004 and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2022

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057