(VILNIUS, Lithuania) As Belarus continues to crack down on local media outlets and independent journalists, BBG Chairman Walter Isaacson and RFE President Jeffrey Gedmin today affirmed their commitment to media freedom in Belarus and expressed concern for the safety of journalists throughout the country. Isaacson and Gedmin visited Lithuania as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).
"What we're seeing in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere is that people are seeking what those of us in free societies take for granted -- the truth," said Isaacson. "In Belarus, the U.S. is committed to providing people with accurate and reliable information in order for them to make up their own minds when it comes to determining their future."
The delegation met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, as well as with Belarusian students, civil society advocates, and political opposition leaders. During an exclusive pre-trip interview, Senator Lieberman told RFE, "We want to tell the Belarusian opposition that we're with them. We stand with them in the cause of freedom."
Gedmin added that RFE's Belarusian radio station, Radio Svaboda, is "doing an extraordinary job under difficult circumstances in order to bring people the news and information that their government is trying to deny them."
"We're particularly concerned about our journalists' safety," said Gedmin. "Several of our reporters were injured covering the violent crackdown on post-election protests and journalists continue to be arrested and harassed in Minsk and around the country."
Radio Svaboda provided live coverage to Belarus today of a town hall meeting the delegation attended with students from the European Humanities University (EHU), a school re-located from Minsk to Vilnius in 2005 after being shut down by Belarusian authorities.
Since the widely criticized December 2010 elections, a growing number of Belarusian media outlets have been shut down. As a result, Radio Svaboda's audience has increased dramatically. In a single day shortly after the election, the station's website received a 20-fold increase in page views over normal daily traffic. In January 2011, visitors to Radio Svaboda's website viewed a total of 2.4 million pages of content, reflecting a five-fold increase over the same period in 2010.
Recently, graffiti has started showing up in Belarus with Radio Svaboda's website address prominently visible. [PHOTOS]
"I will not keep silent," reads one wall of graffiti in Minsk. "The truth is on the Internet - svaboda.org."
About RFE's Belarusian Service
In a country that has been referred to as "Europe's last dictatorship," RFE's Radio Svaboda is one of the few independent media outlets accessible to Belarusians in their own language. Established in 1954, the station is on the air eight hours-a-day and, in partnership with Poland's Belsat television company, produces a popular weekly half-hour television news and current affairs program.