New York, July 7, 2021 – Belarusian authorities should immediately release journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau, drop all charges against him, and ensure that journalists can work freely and without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 30, authorities charged Aliaksandrau, founder and chief editor of the news website Belaruski Zhurnal, with treason, according to multiple news reports. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years imprisonment, according to those reports and the country’s criminal code.
Authorities have not stated the grounds for the treason charge, those reports said.
The journalist has been held at the Valadarskaga detention center in Minsk, the capital, since January; he was initially arrested and charged with violating public order on January 12, according to news reports from the time and Barys Haretski, deputy head of the trade and advocacy group the Belarusian Association of Journalists, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
“Belarusian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau, and drop all charges against him,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director. “It is time for Belarusian authorities to once and for all end their cruel and lawless attempts to silence free voices by manipulating the law. Belarus must stop persecuting and threatening independent journalists.”
Aliaksandrau is a former deputy director of the independent Belarusian news agency BelaPAN, and a former staff member of the London-based non-profit press freedom organization Index on Censorship, according to reports by his former employers and Haretski.
Belaruski Zhurnal mostly covers social and political issues; its recent coverage includes an analysis of COVID-19 related problems in Belarus and issues of gender-based violence.
The public order charges filed in Aliaksandrau’s case accuse the journalist of organizing and financing “mass actions violating public order” by illegally paying the fines of journalists and activists who had been detained while covering protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko last year, according to those reports.
The journalist’s lawyer, Anton Gashinski, told BelaPAN in a June 30 interview that Aliaksandrau denied any guilt in the treason case; Gashinski did not comment on the public order allegations.
In that interview, Gashinski said that Aliaksandrau was in a “satisfactory” state in prison, and that his detention, which was set to expire soon, will likely be extended in light of the new charge. When CPJ called Gashinski for comment, he said that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement and could not provide any additional information on Aliaksandrau’s case.
CPJ emailed Belarusian Investigative Committee and Interior Ministry for comment but did not receive any replies.