A view of a church in the town of Slonim, Belarus, as pictured on February 15, 2011. Authorities in Slonim detained journalist Syarhei Chihrin. (AFP/Alexey Gromov)

Belarusian journalist Syarhei Chihrin detained for 7 days on extremism charges

Paris, December 20, 2022 — Belarusian authorities should immediately release journalist Syarhei Chihrin and stop using the country’s extremism legislation against members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On December 16, security forces in the southwestern city of Slonim detained Chihrin and a local court ordered him to be held for seven days, according to multiple media reports and a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group operating in exile.

Authorities accused Chihrin of reposting “extremist materials,” according to those sources, which did not specify the nature of the materials.

Journalists in Slonim believe Chihrin is being prosecuted for his previous work as a journalist, BAJ deputy head Barys Haretski told CPJ via messaging app.

“Journalist Syarhei Chihrin’s arrest is yet another example of Belarus’ arbitrary use of extremism legislation,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Belarusian authorities should immediately release Chihrin and ensure that he is not targeted for his journalism.”

Anyone convicted of producing, storing, or spreading materials designated as extremist can be fined up to 960 Belarusian rubles (US$380) or detained for up to 15 days, according to the administrative code of Belarus and a representative with banned Belarusian human rights group Viasna, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

Chihrin has reported about Belarusian literature, history, and culture, according to the Belarusian online directory Nashi Lyudi.

After he was detained, Chihrin was removed from his position as head of the literary department of the Slonim Drama Theater, according to the BAJ and news reports. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee for comment but did not receive any response.