The Free Media Awards – Supporting Independent Journalism in Eastern Europe are being presented this year to journalists, research teams and organizations in Belarus. Honourees include the court reporter Katsjaryna Barisewitsch, the news website TUT.by, the Belarus Association of Journalists, the journalist Natalia Lubnieuskaja, and the journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva along with her camerawoman Darya Chultsova. The Free Media Awards are given out by the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius in cooperation with the Norwegian Fritt Ord Foundation.
“This year’s winners of the Free Media Awards provided us with some of the best and most courageous reporting to have come out of Belarus last year. Moreover, the imprisonment of some of the award winners demonstrates the consequences faced by Belarus citizens who stand up for social rights, freedom and democracy”, says Prof Dr. Michael Göring, Chairman of the ZEIT-Stiftung
As stated by the jury determining the prize winners: “We dedicate all awards for 2021 to Belarusian media and journalists for their outstanding work and courage during this dramatic year for Belarusian journalists. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, authorities detained 480 journalists who spent 1,200 days behind bars in total. Unfortunately, the situation has developed further in the wrong direction in 2021. We witness a systematic crackdown on independent media. Not only have we seen numerous new instances of confinement, criminal fines for “violations of rules on mass assembly”, “disobeying the police” and “violations of laws on mass media”, but we have also seen the infringement on or forced closure of the activities of large media outlets and organisations that work for the rights of journalists, including BAJ itself. According to the BAJ, there are currently 27 journalists and media managers imprisoned in Belarus. With the Free Media Awards we want to draw attention to these abuses and support the fight that journalists in Belarus are waging for a free press. And we want to honour their outstanding work despite these conditions."
The court journalist Katsjaryna Barisewitsch, TUT.by, received the Free Media Award for her reporting on the court and sentencing proceedings with which the Lukaschenka government attempted to intimidate demonstrators. Her courageous engagement is exemplified best by her article on the case of Raman Bandarenka. Her reporting revealed the regime’s methods and resulted in the reporter’s jailing and conviction. Among those proposing her for the prize was the Belarusian Association in Norway Razam.
A further Free Media Award goes to the website TUT.by, as nominated by, among others, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Human Rights House. At first chiefly a service-oriented portal, the online site later developed into an independent news site that garnered international recognition. In 2020, for example, TUT.by made film material from the protests available to broadcasters around the world, thus enabling international coverage. Recently, state repression of the website intensified, and at the end of 2020, TUT.by's media status was revoked, with the result that the journalists lost their accreditation. The portal was blocked after a decision made by the government on May 21 and 13 employees were imprisoned.
The Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) has been given a Free Media Award for its tireless work in support of the rights of journalists. Together with its partner organization Reporters without Borders, BAJ has since the August 2020 onset of the protests in Belarus documented and publicized freedom of press violations and the repression of independent journalists. Additionally, BAJ – itself tracked by the authorities – offers assistance to journalists and is an important source of information for the International media. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee nominated the association for the award.
Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova were honoured for their courageous live reporting on the protests against the Lukaschenka regime. As a consequence of their efforts, they were sentenced to two years in a labour camp. The Belarusian government subsequently refused to accredit the broadcaster Belsat, situated in Poland, for which the team worked, giving the authorities the opportunity to persecute Belsat's media workers because they are not recognized as journalists.
Natalia Lubnieuskaja reports at the Newspaper Nasha Niva on individuals who are being oppressed by the government and on the arbitrary arrests made during peaceful protests. She also reported on the outbreak of the Covid-19 in Belarus, something first denied by the government and later ignored. She is being given the Free Media Award for her moving texts and her perseverance in the face of resistance. In August 2020 the journalist was shot in the knee by the police and was hospitalized for more than a month. Thereafter, she unhesitatingly resumed her work.
The selected honourees were chosen by a six-person jury: Ane Tusvik Bonde from the Human Rights House Foundation in Oslo; Alice Bota, Moscow correspondent for the DIE ZEIT; the Ukrainian journalist and translator Juri Durkot; Guri Norstrøm, Eastern European expert with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, Martin Paulsen, Head of Department, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Bergene, and Silvia Stöber, who reports as a freelance journalist on the Southern Caucasus and Southeast Asia.
Since 2016 the Free Media Awards have been conferred on independent journalists, editors and media platforms in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. The award recipients are nominated by international bodies and institutions that are active in Eastern Europe as well by Eastern European experts.