Washington, D.C. — Several members of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, including committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), expressed support and appreciation for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) journalism in both Belarus and Russia, and condemned the harassment of RFE/RL journalists in both countries during a June 9 hearing on “U.S. Policy on Belarus.” The hearing featured testimony by RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, as well as U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher and Belarusian democratic opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
In his testimony, Fly described how RFE/RL has provided rare coverage of ongoing protests and political chaos in Belarus, despite the government’s increasingly brutal crackdown on media freedom. As one of the few remaining independent media outlets working in the Belarusian language, Fly stated that Radio Svaboda (as its Belarus Service is known locally) has been able to “provide a window of truth” into events in the country, even closed-door trials, through live footage and reporting. He explained to the committee that RFE/RL’s “work was seen as so integral to truthful live coverage of the country’s protests that our cameras captured ordinary citizens chanting ‘Radio Svaboda!, Radio Svaboda!’ on August 15 outside of the State TV building, after they spotted our video crew, showing the emotional attachment Svaboda has with ordinary Belarusians.”
Fly also addressed RFE/RL’s efforts “to preserve and conduct independent journalism…across a region where authoritarians are resurgent, and democrats are on the defensive.” Fly noted that the Belarusian government’s attacks on the media have put RFE/RL correspondents in danger of arbitrary detention – local RFE/RL reporters spent a total of 118 days in jail in 2020 and 2021 – and that, as a result of an “unprecedented crackdown against independent media in Russia [that] has targeted RFE/RL’s operations in the country,” RFE/RL journalists are facing a difficult choice between continuing to report from within the country at the risk of grave consequences and relocating elsewhere for their safety.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) acknowledged the “real danger to themselves and their families” that is faced by RFE/RL’s journalists throughout the region and several Senators focused on the plight of prominent blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik, who has survived two hunger strikes while spending nearly a full year in pre-trial detention, and of Ukrainian Service contributor Vladislav Yesypenko, who was tortured after his March 2020 arrest on Russia-occupied Crimea by Russia’s FSB, and also remains in pre-trial detention.
Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) thanked “the men and women of [RFE/RL], who, with their pen, send a beacon of hope and information to people across the globe and in places where they do not have that opportunity to independently understand what is happening in their own country and in their own region. These are extraordinary people.” Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) also commended RFE/RL for its reporting, especially its commitment to exposing the corrupt practices of local elites in Belarus; Ambassador Fisher concurred, adding that “RFE/RL and their work is absolutely essential to telling that public story.”
One day earlier, on June 8, RFE/RL was pleased to host a visit to its Prague headquarters by Mrs. Tsikhanouskaya, who sat down for exclusive interviews with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service and the 24/7 digital network Current Time, and praised RFE/RL’s journalists for their professionalism, which she termed “admirable”.
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.
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Contact Martins Zvaners
Deputy Director of Media and Public Affairs, Washington, DC