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Press Freedom At Risk in Belarus During Ice Hockey World Championships

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), the World Editors Forum, the European Newspaper Publishers' Association (ENPA) and the News Media Coalition have protested to the International Ice Hockey Federation about visa requirements for journalists wanting to travel to Belarus to cover the World Ice Hockey Championships in May.

While reporters accredited to the event via the International Ice Hockey Federation system will not need a visa to enter Belarus, they will need to apply for a visa if they want to report on anything else while in the country. Belarus has an extremely restrictive media environment.

"Having chosen one of the most repressive regimes in Europe to host your event, we ask that the International Ice Hockey Federation take all possible steps to ensure that Belarus fully respects its international obligations to freedom of expression," the letter said.

The IIHF has a duty to ensure that journalists were free to carry out their legitimate news gathering duties and to ensure their partnership with the host country did not encourage or promote repression. Sport does not occur in a vacuum and journalists should be free to report without restrictions, the organizations said.

Many journalists were interpreting the regulations as a form of censorship, said Markku Mantila, a World Editors Forum Board member and Editor-in-chief of the Finnish newspaper Kavela.

"The decision has caused concern at least in Finland, but I believe the feeling is the same around the hockey world. We in Finland find the decision made by Belarus officials nothing but censorship," Mantila said.

www.wan-ifra.org

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