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The UK recalls the importance of media freedom for democracy and security in the OSCE region.

Thank you, Mr Chair.

Ms Ribeiro, welcome back to the Permanent Council and thank you for your continued work to promote and defend media freedom since your last report.

We stand behind your mandate and your work, even as others seek to undermine the OSCE’s standards and commitments to media freedom. We agree with the conclusion in your report that it is indispensable work.

Free media play a vital role in promoting human rights and diversity and equality, including gender justice, as well as enhancing security in our region. Yet, as your report notes, last year we saw a global spike in the number of journalists and media workers who have been killed and in the number who have been imprisoned.

Across the OSCE space, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on media freedom is evident. Many journalists in Ukraine have been injured. Broadcasting infrastructure has been destroyed. Twelve media workers have been killed while on duty, including Ukrainian producer, Bohan Bitik, who was shot and killed on April 26 while reporting for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, near Kherson. In Crimea, the persecution of dissenting voices, particularly from the Crimean Tatar community, has continued.

In Russia this January, Meduza, one of the most popular Russian-language news portals, was outlawed and declared an “undesirable organization”. In February, journalist Alexander Nevzorov was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment, while RusNews journalist Maria Ponomarenko received a six-year sentence. Telegram channel author Dmitry Ivanov was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, and journalist Andrey Novashov to eight months in a correctional facility.

In Belarus, 33 journalists are currently behind bars. Many more have fled to avoid being detained. Independent media has been systematically purged and dismantled, with extremely harsh sentences handed down. This includes journalist Andrzej Poczobut from the Polish community in Belarus, sentenced to eight years in prison. In March, Maryna Zolatava and Ludmila Chekina, Editor-in-chief and Director General of the largest independent online news portal in Belarus, were sentenced to twelve years.

Such repressive measures reflect a systematic clampdown by the Russian and Belarusian authorities on media freedom.

Yet our OSCE commitments are very clear. Participating States have repeatedly committed themselves to ensuring media freedom as a basic condition for peaceful societies. The 2018 OSCE Ministerial Council Decision on Safety of Journalists, adopted by consensus, is a road map for us all to provide a safe and enabling environment for journalists, and to ensure our laws, policy and practice fully comply with international human rights law and OSCE Commitments. We should all live up to that decision.

The UK calls for all participating States to uphold their commitments on media freedom, and ensure the safety of journalists and media workers. We will continue to work with you to ensure that media freedom remains a cornerstone of democracy, and a prerequisite for security across our region.

Thank you.

Photo by Immanuel Giel, Wikimedia commons.