Paris, June 3, 2022 – Ahead of the imminent trials of at least five independent Belarusian journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the country’s authorities to drop the charges against them and immediately release them from jail, CPJ said Friday.
The journalists, whose trials are scheduled to begin between Monday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 8, face from three to 15 years in jail, according to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a banned local advocacy and trade group, Viasna, a banned Belarusian human rights group, and a press release by the Belarusian Investigative Committee.
“These journalists are being tried on trumped-up charges for daring to do their jobs and cover crucial events such as the 2020 protests demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Belarusian authorities should immediately release them from jail, drop all charges against them, and ensure that members of the media can work freely and without fear of reprisal.”
Those charged include the following:
- Andrei Aliaksandrau, chief editor of the news website Belaruski Zhurnal and former deputy director of independent Belarusian news agency BelaPAN. Aliaksandrau was detained on January 12, 2021, and charged under four sections: “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order” (Part 2, Article 342 of the Criminal Code – up to three years in jail), large-scale tax evasion (Part 2, Article 243 of the Criminal Code – up to seven years), “creating an extremist group” (Part 1, Article 361.1 of the Criminal Code) – up to seven years) and “high treason” (Part 1, Article 356 of the Criminal Code – up to 15 years).
- BelaPAN former director Dzmitry Navazhylau, detained on August 18, 2021 and charged with “creating an extremist group” (Part 1, Article 361.1 of the Criminal Code) and large-scale tax evasion (Part 2, Article 243 of the Criminal Code). Each charge is punishable up to seven years imprisonment.
- BelaPAN director and chief editor Iryna Leushyna, who was detained on August 18, 2021 and charged with “creating an extremist group” (Part 1, Article 361.1 of the Criminal Code). She faces up to seven years in jail.
- Aksana Kolb, editor of Independent Belarusian weekly online newspaper Novy Chas, detained on April 20, 2022, and charged with allegedly “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order” (Part 1, Article 342 of the Criminal Code). She faces up to four years in prison.
- Andrey Kuznechyk, a freelance correspondent for Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Kuznechyk was detained on November 25, 2021 and charged with “creating an extremist organization or participating in it” (Part 1, Article 361.1 of the Criminal Code). He faces up to seven years in jail. Four weeks after his detention, on December 23, 2021, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior designated Radio Svaboda as “extremist”, media reported.
According to BAJ’s Telegram channel, the closed-door trial of the former and current BelaPAN employees is due to begin on June 6 in the Region Court of Minsk; Kolb’s on June 7 in the Tsentralny District Court of Minsk, and Kuznechyk’s on June 8 in the regional court of the eastern city of Mahilou.
In addition, BAJ reported that the dates of the trials of Iryna Slaunikava and Katsiaryna Andreyeva, two journalists for Poland-based independent Belarusian broadcaster Belsat TV, were to be set in the coming days.
CPJ called the Ministry of Interior but was told to contact the Investigative Committee for comment on the cases. CPJ did not receive any reply to its email to the Investigative Committee.
Editor’s note: Andrei Aliaksandrau’s former title at BelaPAN has been corrected in the fourth paragraph.