A representative of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) spoke at a meeting of the Political Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on November 18, suggesting that PACE hold a hearing on the media freedom situation in Belarus.
As Andrey Alyaksandraw told BelaPAN, he said at the meeting that media freedom was essential to a free presidential election. "If there’s no freedom of the media, if freedom of speech is restricted, if there’s no such discussion, there may be no free election," he stressed.
Mr. Alyaksandraw spoke about the Belarusian authorities’ pressure on the independent media and registration denials for many media outlets, as well as distribution problems experienced by some newspapers that are critical of the government.
The BAJ representative also suggested that PACE look at how the Belarusian authorities have responded to the Council’s recommendations.
Mr. Alyaksandraw said that the matter caused a "fairly emotional debate" at the meeting. Gennady Zyuganov, leader of Russia’s Communist Party and a staunch supporter of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s policies, portrayed Belarus as the "heaven on earth" in his speech, according to the BAJ representative. "But it is political parties’ activities that caused the biggest number of questions. Questions were asked as to why the incumbent president has as many as nine rivals [in the presidential election] and so on," Mr. Alyaksandraw said.
"As for the media, there was a unanimous opinion that there are violations in the sphere and the conditions [for media outlets] are far from being democratic," he added.