Belarus law enforcement officers patrol a street in the capital Minsk, on March 27, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Belarusian journalist detained for 2 months, charged over reporting

Paris, May 19, 2022 — Belarus authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against journalist Dzmitry Luksha and let the press report freely on the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On March 11, law enforcement searched the home of Luksha, a freelance journalist with the Kazakh state-funded television station Khabar 24, detained him, and charged him with allegedly discrediting the Republic of Belarus under Article 369.1 of the criminal code and organizing or participating in gross violations of public order under Article 342.1, according to Viasna, a banned Belarusian human rights group. If found guilty on both charges, he faces eight years in jail.

Luksha’s detention was not made public until May 17, when Viasna reported that the journalist had been detained for two months and criminally charged over his reporting. Luksha is being held in the Valadarskaga Pre-trial Detention Center No. 1 in the capital Minsk.

“The fact that freelance journalist Dzmitry Luksha’s detention was kept secret until activists learned about it by accident more than two months later shows that the Belarusian authorities continue to harass independent journalists and do so under the radar,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities in Belarus must immediately drop all charges against Luksha, release him and other journalists, and stop conducting their political repressions behind closed doors.”

According to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a local advocacy and trade group, Luksha’s charges likely stem from his latest reporting on Belarus’ alleged involvement alongside Russia in the war in Ukraine. The material, broadcast on March 6, was removed from Khabar 24’s website but remains accessible online.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Russia has used Belarusian territory as a platform for the deployment of troops and military assaults on Ukraine, according to news reports.

Luksha worked for Belteleradiocompany, the state television and radio broadcasting service, and RTVi, the privately owned international Russian-language television network, before joining Khabar 24 in 2018 as a freelance correspondent in Belarus, according to reports.

Luksha has repeatedly filmed reports for Khabar 24 about the 2020 protests in Belarus and the subsequent crackdown and has been outspoken about the country’s political situation on social media, according to the BAJ.

Separately, on May 18, the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) in Minsk detained Konstantin Zalatykh, director of the independent business newspaper Belarusy y Rynok, chief editor Andrei Aleksandrovich, and accountant Yulia Kahno, according to a report by the BAJ and a statement by Belarusy y Rynok.

Zalatykh, whose technical equipment was confiscated, was charged under Article 130 of the criminal code for “incitement of national, racial, religious, or social hatred,” BAJ reported. Aleksandrovich and Kahno were both released later that day; Aleksandrovich was questioned as a witness in Zalatykh’s case and had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, Belarusy y Rynok reported. CPJ is investigating to determine if the charges are related to the outlet’s reporting.

CPJ emailed Khabar 24’s editorial office but did not receive an answer. CPJ called the Belarusian Ministry of Interior for comment, but no one answered.