Paris, August 3, 2022 — In response to a Belarusian court’s sentencing of journalist Iryna Slaunikava to five years in prison on Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement of condemnation:
“Today’s sentencing of journalist Iryna Slaunikava to five years in prison is another example of the deeply cynical and vindictive nature of the Belarusian government,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid. “Authorities’ witch hunt against the journalists who covered anti-government protests in 2020 must stop immediately. Authorities should not contest Slaunikava’s appeal and should release her immediately, along with all other jailed members of the press.”
During a closed hearing on Wednesday, August 3, a court in the southeastern city of Homel convicted Slaunikava, a correspondent with the Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV, of “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order” and “creating an extremist group,” according to media reports and Viasna, a banned Belarusian human rights group. Prosecutors accused Slaunikava of participating in a 2020 protest calling for the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and of creating and managing a group that shared “extremist materials” in Polish media, according to those sources.
Slaunikava denied the charges, according to reports. The journalist’s husband, Aliaksandr Loika, told CPJ via messaging app that the prosecution requested six years in prison just before the trial ended on Tuesday. He said the journalist plans to appeal her conviction.
In July 2021, Belarusian authorities labeled Belsat TV, which covered the 2020 protests, as “extremist.” Slaunikava has been detained since October 2021. On July 13, Katsiaryna Andreyeva, another Belsat journalist, was convicted of treason.
CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee and called the Homel Regional Court for comment, but did not receive any replies. Belarus was the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 19 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2021, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.