Paris, October 26, 2022 – Belarusian authorities must immediately release Siarhei Satsuk, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, along with all other journalists currently behind bars, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Wednesday, October 26, a court in Minsk, the capital, found Satsuk, chief editor of the independent Yezhednevnik news website, guilty of taking a bribe, inciting hatred, and abusing power or authority, and sentenced him to eight years in jail, according to media reports and a statement by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a shuttered local advocacy and trade group.
“CPJ is outraged that Siarhei Satsuk has been sentenced to eight years in prison in a shamefully fabricated case. Belarusian authorities are hell-bent on retaliating against journalists’ brave and critical reporting on matters of public interest,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Belarusian authorities must not contest Satsuk’s appeal and release him immediately, along with all other imprisoned members of the press currently detained or on trial.”
The court also fined Satsuk 16,000 Belarusian rubles (US$6,360) and banned him from holding certain positions for five years after his release from prison, those reports said. In addition, the court ordered Satsuk to pay 12,384 Belarusian rubles (US$4,930) in compensation.
Satsuk intends to appeal the verdict, his brother Ailaksandr told CPJ.
Satsuk’s trial began on September 23 at the Minsk City Court, according to Viasna, a banned human rights group that continues to operate unofficially. On October 20, independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya reported that the state prosecutor requested eight years of imprisonment for Satsuk.
Satsuk, the author of a number of high-profile investigations into alleged corruption at the Belarusian Health Ministry, was detained in December 2021 in connection to a bribery case for which he was previously arrested in March 2020, according to multiple news reports. Belarusian authorities blocked Yezhednevnik’s website on the same day, those reports said.
Satsuk’s arrest in March 2020 followed the publication of reports by Yezhednevnik on the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 9, BAJ reported that Satsuk had also been charged with inciting hatred, under Article 130, Part 2 of the criminal code, and abuse of power or official authority, under Article 426, Part 2 of the criminal code. BAJ reported that authorities had not disclosed any information publicly about the new charges.
CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee, but did not receive any replies.
Belarus was the world’s fifth-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 19 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2021, when CPJ published its most recent prison census.
[Editor’s note: The spelling of Satsuk’s name was correction in the third paragraph.]