Paris, May 9, 2022 – Belarus authorities should drop all charges against journalist Yury Hantsarevich and let the press report freely on the war in Ukraine, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On May 5, the pro-government Telegram channel Obratnaya Storona published a video in which Hantsarevich, a correspondent for the independent news website Intex-Press, is seen confessing to sending materials to extremist media outlets; CPJ was unable to immediately determine the circumstances under which that video was recorded.
News reports published later that day said authorities in the western city of Baranavichy had charged Hantsarevich with facilitating extremist activities and ordered him to be held for 10 days in a separate administrative case. If convicted on the extremism charge, he faces up to six years in prison, according to the criminal code of Belarus.
“The seemingly coerced confession of journalist Yury Hantsarevich once again shows that Belarusian authorities will do whatever it takes to demean and harass members of the press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must release Hantsarevich immediately, drop all charges against him, and stop using extremism legislation to stifle independent reporting on the war in Ukraine.”
The confession video does not identify Hantsarevich by name, but his identity was confirmed by the independent news website Mediazona.
In the video, Hantsarevich says he sent a screenshot from a weather website showing a Russian military convoy to the independent Belarusian news website Tut.by via Telegram on February 24, and took a photo of what he thought were Russian aircraft at the Baranavichy military airfield with a camera borrowed from Intex-Press and sent it to Radio Svaboda on March 1.
Both Tut.by and Radio Svaboda, the Belarus service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster RFE/RL, are designated as “extremist” in Belarus, as CPJ has documented.
Separately, on May 6, the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs designated the news website Kyky.org and satirical news Telegram channel Tea With Raspberry Jam as extremist organizations, according to reports.
Anyone convicted of producing, storing, or spreading extremist materials can be fined up to 960 rubles (US$290) or detained for up to 15 days, according to the administrative code of Belarus.
CPJ emailed Intex-Press and called the Belarusian Ministry of Interior for comment, but did not receive any replies.