A member of the security forces is seen in Minsk, Belarus, on August 14, 2020. Authorities recently sentenced journalist Yahor Martsinovich to two years and six months in prison. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)

Belarus court sentences journalist Yahor Martsinovich to 2.5 years in prison

Stockholm, March 15, 2022 – In response to Tuesday’s decision by the Zavodski District Court in Minsk, Belarus, to sentence journalist Yahor Martsinovich to two years and six months in prison, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement of condemnation:

“Today’s sentence against Yahor Martsinovich demonstrates once again how Belarus authorities will resort to any legal artifice, no matter how transparent, to imprison journalists who covered the 2020 protests and their brutal suppression,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately release Martsinovich along with all other journalists currently behind bars, and stop filing spurious retaliatory charges against members of the press.”

On July 8, 2021, police cracked down on the independent news website Nasha Niva, where Martsinovich works as chief editor, in which they detained him, raided the outlet’s office and the homes of its staffers, and blocked its website, according to CPJ research. Authorities charged Martsinovich and Nasha Niva’s head of advertising, Andrei Skurko, with “causing damage without signs of theft” for allegedly paying the Nasha Niva office’s electrical bill under a personal rate instead of a commercial one, thereby causing damage to the state electricity company.

The court convicted Martsinovich and Skurko on that charge on Tuesday, March 15, despite their having reimbursed the electric company for 10,000 roubles (US$3,000) in alleged damages, according to Nasha Niva.

Martsinovich and Skurko denied the charges, arguing that the apartment housing Nasha Niva’s office was not subject to commercial utility rates; Martsinovich added that he was not responsible for administrative decisions, according to that report. CPJ was unable to immediately determine whether Martsinovich and Skurko intended to appeal the sentencing.

Nasha Niva extensively covered the months of protests that followed the contested August 2020 re-election of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and the outlet was declared an extremist group earlier this year, according to news reports.

Martsinovich was one of at least 19 Belarusian journalists detained for their work at the time of CPJ’s December 2021 prison census.