Law enforcement officers leave the office of the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists following a search in Minsk, Belarus, on February 16, 2021.(Reuters/ BelaPAN)

At least five independent Belarusian journalists face trials, years in jail

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:  

  • 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.

Belarus was listed as the world’s fifth-worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s 2021 prison census in the wake of Lukashenko’s media crackdown following his disputed 2020 election.

Editor’s note: Andrei Aliaksandrau’s former title at BelaPAN has been corrected in the fourth paragraph.