Police patrol a street to prevent an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, on March 25, 2021. Belarusian journalist Lyubov Kasperovich was sentenced to 15 days' detention on May 17 for covering an opposition trial. (BelaPan via AP)

Tut.by reporter Lyubov Kasperovich sentenced to 15 days for covering trial

Vilnius, Lithuania, May 17, 2021 — Belarusian authorities must immediately release journalist Lyubov Kasperovich and stop persecuting members of the press for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Today, the Maskouvsky District Court in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, sentenced Kasperovich, a reporter for Belarusian independent news website Tut.by, to 15 days of detention, according to her employer and a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a local advocacy and trade organization. 

The court found Kasperovich guilty of participating in a “mass event” under article 24.23 of the country’s administrative code.

On May 14, Belarusian police detained Kasperovich near Minsk’s Oktyabrsky District Court, where she was covering the trial of a group of 12 young opposition supporters, Tut.by reported. She was detained after she left the court building, the report said.

“Authorities in Belarus must immediately stop detaining, jailing, or fining journalists who are covering trials and peaceful protests across the country, and release all journalists in custody,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Lyubov Kasperovich was simply doing her job, and throwing her behind bars won’t stop other journalists from reporting.”  

Dozens of journalists have been arrested for covering protests and other opposition activity since the August 2020 election, when President Aleksandr Lukashenko was reelected in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, as CPJ has documented

After her arrest, Kasperovich was held in Akrestsin detention center in Minsk for three days. In court today, she said that she and seven others were placed in a prison cell for three people, and had to sleep on bare boards with electric lights on, Tut.by reported.

Kasperovich participated in the hearing via Skype from the detention center, and the connection was so poor it was difficult to understand the proceedings, according to BAJ and the Tut.by report.

Tut.by editor-in-chief Maryna Zolatava told CPJ via phone that Kasperovich was on assignment, and that she will appeal. She called the trial “a travesty.”

CPJ called Volha Chemodanova, the head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, several times but either no one answered or the line was busy.