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Russian journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov (file photo)

Authoritarian leaders are undermining the media and democratic institutions at the peril of peace, Dmitry Muratov, a joint winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, said on December 9 ahead of the award ceremony in Norway's capital.

Muratov, editor in chief of independent Russian newspaper Novaya gazeta, and Maria Ressa of the Filipino news website Rappler won the award “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said when announcing the prize in October.

"Lack of belief in democracy means that, with time, people turn their backs on democracy, you will get a dictator, and dictatorship leads to war," Muratov told a news conference in Oslo.

Some authorities and governments “invest in lies and not in journalism,” he added.

“I'm fully aware that this prize is for the whole journalist community. We are going through a hardship now," said Muratov, who has been Novaya gazeta’s editor in chief for 24 years.

The newspaper is one of Russia's few remaining independent media outlets.

Since its founding in 1993, six of its journalists have been killed, including Anna Politkovskaya, whose reporting exposed high-level corruption in Russia and rights abuses in the North Caucasus republic of Chechnya.

Ressa told the press that media worldwide should join forces in “fighting for facts” amid threats to press freedoms.

She is a fierce critic of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who is not eligible to run again when the country votes in May.

"It is going to be impossible to have integrity of elections if you don't have integrity of facts and right now that is the case," Ressa said, referring to elections in the Philippines and elsewhere.

She also accused social media platforms of “amplifying” lies over facts.

Ressa was convicted of libel last year and sentenced to jail in a decision condemned by press freedom advocates. She currently is out on bail but faces seven active legal cases.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said that the prize was “to underscore the importance of information in our society today.”

“A healthy society and democracy (are) dependent on trustworthy information so that the public at large [and] politicians can base their decisions and debates on facts-based information,” Reiss-Andersen said.

“There’s so much information in society today that is not trustworthy, is disinformation, is propaganda, is fake news.”

Ressa and Muratov are due to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo on December 10.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters
Security officers with a sniffer dog check the luggage of passengers in front of a Ryanair flight that was forced make an emergency landing in Minsk last year.

A Polish investigation has established that there was “no bomb threat” on a Ryanair plane that made an emergency landing in Minsk earlier this year, allowing Belarusian authorities to arrest opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend.

The National Public Prosecutor's Office, which oversaw the probe, said in a statement on December 9 that “the whole situation was only an excuse to force the pilot to land” in the Belarusian capital.

Pratasevich and Russian citizen Sofia Sapega were arrested on May 23 when authoritarian Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka scrambled a military jet to escort the Ryanair passenger flight over its airspace to land in Minsk.

Many countries regarded the act as a "state hijacking" while the plane was flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

No bomb was found onboard, despite Belarusian claims that they had received an e-mail warning them about the existence of explosives on the flight.

The move sparked international outrage and demands for the release of Pratasevich and Sapega.

Belarusian Journalist Seized After Ryanair Jet 'Forcibly' Diverted To Minsk
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Lukashenka's regime was already internationally isolated over its brutal crackdown the country's pro-democracy movement following last year’s disputed presidential election.

Polish prosecutors said passengers and airline representatives were questioned as witnesses in the course of the investigation conducted by the country’s domestic counterintelligence agency. The plane was also inspected, and pilot recordings analyzed.

“The findings of the investigation so far show that on May 23, 2021, an officer of the Belarusian KGB was in the air traffic control tower in Minsk, [and] instructed the air traffic controller who had contact with the pilot of the plane,” according to the statement.

The KGB officer was “in constant contact by telephone” with a person to whom he was reporting on the situation, it said.

The UN’s civil aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, said last month that results of a fact-finding mission into the incident will not be released until its next session in January next year.

Pratasevich faces charges of playing a role in civil disturbances that followed a disputed presidential election in August 2020. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Sapega could face up to six years in prison.

Pratasevich was a key administrator of the Telegram channel Nexta-Live, which has been covering mass protests against the official results of the election that handed Lukashenka a sixth presidential term despite widespread criticism that the vote was rigged.

The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped several rounds of coordinated sanctions on Belarus.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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