PARIS (Reuters) – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned on Sunday what he called “arbitrary measures” taken by the Belarusian authorities against journalists, saying they violate press freedom.
The Belarusian government, facing weeks of protests after a disputed presidential election, has revoked the accreditations of some journalists working for foreign media, news organisations and a journalist association said on Saturday.
“I call on Belarusian authorities to reverse these measures without delay,” Le Drian said in a statement.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz, responding to a question on Sunday from Reuters, did not directly address criticism from western governments and affected media that the decision to revoke the accreditations was an attempt by the Belarusian government to stifle journalism and balanced coverage of the protests.
“We have more than 300 foreign journalists working at the moment who cover all the events,” he said in a text message. Glaz declined to comment further.
Radio Liberty in a report on its website on Saturday cited the Foreign Ministry as saying the decision to revoke the accreditations was taken for security reasons.
In comments at a government meeting on July 23, President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to expel foreign journalists, accusing them of inciting protests against him before the Aug. 9 election.
On Saturday the Belarusian Association of Journalists identified 17 journalists who it said had had their accreditation revoked, and later added two people to make a total of 19, citing the Belarusian media outlet Tut.by. Reuters has not independently confirmed the complete tally.
The journalists included a video journalist and a photographer from Reuters, as well as journalists from the French news agency AFP and the BBC, their organisations said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a Twitter message on Sunday, “Attempts by Belarusian authorities to silence local and international media by revoking accreditation and through other forms of intimidation are completely unacceptable”.
“As a member of #OSCE, Belarus is obliged to respect freedom of media,” added Linde, who will take over the rotating chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe next year.
The OSCE monitors media developments in its participating states for violations of free expression, and has a mandate to protect and promote media freedom in all 57 participating states, it says on its website.
(Reporting by Maya Nikolaeva in Paris and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Editing by Frances Kerry)