The Belarusian Association of Journalists - 2004, Belarus
Founded a year after Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka assumed power, the BAJ has been the main association for the independent press in Belarus since its creation. From its base in Minsk and its five regional branches, the BAJ aims to provide the Belarusian public with the most objective, truthful, comprehensive and timely information. It also strives for high-quality and ethical journalism.
The BAJ fights bitterly for press freedom in a country where media laws allow the authorities to shut down media outlets they consider to be too critical, and the penal code contains articles penalising the defamation of high-level officials. Foreign media outlets must obtain a licence to operate and their local contributors are often harassed by the state security police, while independent media outlets suffer economic discrimination. The BAJ denounced increasing legal repression in 2014, when fines were imposed and criminal charges brought against several of its members, including a charge of treason against one.
A priority for the BAJ is to fight further restrictive amendments to the mass media law that came into effect in 2015, making it easier for the government to shut down websites. With the support of international press organisations, the BAJ is also pushing for the abolition of a provision forbidding freelance journalists from reporting in the country, in breach of European press freedom standards.
In 2015, BAJ founder and long-time chair Zhanna Litvina stepped down. She continues to play an active role in the BAJ as a member of its board. A legendary journalist in her country, her career highlights include heading the Minsk Bureau of Radio Liberty and setting up and heading the short-lived but unique independent Belarusian-language 101.2 FM radio station. She led the BAJ for its first 20 years.
When she stepped down in 2015, the BAJ elected Andrei Bastunets, a former deputy, as its new chair. Bastunets, a lawyer, is supported by four deputies: Aleh Aheyeu, Barys Haretski, Aliaksandr Starykevich and Alina Suravets.