By Cecilia Ologunagba
New York – UN independent human rights experts have called for the immediate release of a jailed social media activist, Roman Protasevich, in Belarus amid what they described as a “black hole” for media freedom in the country.
The UN experts in a statement on Monday, expressed outrage at the arrest, alleged torture, and forced confession of opposition journalist Roman, who was arbitrarily detained on May 23, in a case that sparked international condemnation.
Mr Protasevich, 26, was on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania that was forcibly diverted to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, due to a supposed bomb threat.
He was arrested when the passengers disembarked and was reportedly charged with inciting public disorder and social hatred, in the wake of the disputed August 2020 presidential election, which saw longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko return to power, sparking months of mass protests.
“The reckless manner in which Protasevich was arrested, reports that he may have been tortured in order to extract a false confession, was denied access to his lawyer.
“Also, fears that he could face a harsh sentence show an utter disregard for international human rights norms by the authorities in Belarus.’’
The independent experts expressed deep concern for Protasevich’s life and called for his immediate release, and that of other journalists, human rights defenders and activists detained in Belarus.
“The outrageous manner in which Protasevich was intercepted and arrested shows that there is no limit to what this government will do to silence critics.
“It is an egregious example of a severe and relentless crackdown on all independent voices since the contested election results of August 2020,” they added.
The experts have also expressed serious concern over recent amendments to the laws on mass media and on mass gatherings, which allowed the authorities to block the work of any media outlet that publishes content which “threatens national security”.
Similarly, the authorities can also blocked access to websites that disseminate information that is “aimed at promoting extremist activity” or which is “capable of harming the national interest”.
They urged countries “to ramp up pressure on the Belarusian authorities to stop attacks on media freedom, release journalists, human rights defenders and others who are arbitrarily detained.
They urged countries to also ensure independent, transparent and impartial investigations into all reported human rights violations committed in the context of the election. (NAN)