Paris, April 5, 2023—Belarusian authorities should drop all charges against journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich, release him immediately, and stop prosecuting members of the press for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Authorities detained Mantsevich, the founder and editor-in-chief of the regional independent newspaper Regyonalnaya Gazeta, on March 15.
On Monday, April 3, multiple media outlets reported that authorities had charged Mantsevich with having “disseminated knowingly false information discrediting Belarus and its authorities.” If convicted, he could face up to four years in prison and an unspecified fine under Article 369.1 of the Criminal code.
“The prosecution of Alyaksandr Mantsevich is a grim example of how Belarusian authorities have shamelessly criminalized the work of independent journalists,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must drop all charges against Mantsevich, release him immediately, and cease jailing journalists over their work.”
Authorities allege that Mantsevich disseminated false information in Regyonalnaya Gazeta from January 1, 2020, until the time of his arrest.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating in exile, reported on March 23 that Mantsevich had been charged, but said at the time that the specific charges were unknown because his lawyer signed a nondisclosure agreement.
In an April 3 statement reviewed by CPJ, the prosecutor-general’s office alleged that the outlet’s reporting contained inaccurate information aimed at “causing significant damage to state and public interests” and “destabilizing the situation among citizens of Belarus, forming false ideas about non-fulfillment of the rights and freedoms of citizens in the republic.”
BAJ deputy head Barys Haretski told CPJ via messaging app that Regyonalnaya Gazeta was “a leading” outlet covering news in the country’s northwest, and had extensively reported on the disputed 2020 presidential elections and ensuing protests. He said its reporters had previously been detained over their protest coverage. In July 2021, the outlet stopped issuing its print edition amid increasing pressure from authorities, according to media reports.
In January 2022, authorities declared that Regyonalnaya Gazeta’s website and Telegram channel featured extremist content, and declared the same about its Instagram page on March 27, according to news reports.
CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee and the prosecutor-general’s office for comment but did not receive any responses.
Belarus was the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.