Belarus journalist Roman Protasevich is seen in Minsk on June 14, 2021. President Aleksandr Lukashenko recently pardoned Pratasevich. (AFP)

CPJ welcomes pardon of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich, calls for release of others in jail

Paris, May 22, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday welcomed Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s pardon of journalist Raman Pratasevich and called for all other members of the press imprisoned for their work to be released immediately.

 “This decision should not overshadow the country’s shameful record on press freedom,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in New York. “While we welcome the pardon of Pratasevich, authorities should also immediately release all journalists imprisoned for their work, none of whom should ever have been detained and prosecuted in the first place.”

Lukashenko pardoned Pratasevich, co-founder of the Telegram channels NEXTA and former chief editor of the outlet Belarus Golovnogo Mozga (Belarus of the Brain), on May 16 and the news was made public on Monday, May 22, according to multiple news reports.

Pratasevich was convicted on May 3 of organizing mass protests, publicly calling for the seizure of state power and acts of terrorism, slandering and insulting Lukashenko, and leading an extremist formation, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

On the same day Pratasevich was convicted, the court convicted NEXTA co-founder Stsypan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, an administrator of NEXTA and former chief editor of Belarus Golovnogo Mozga, on similar charges and sentenced Putsila to 20 years in prison and Rudzik to 19. Both journalists live outside of Belarus.

Belarusian authorities caused a global outcry when they diverted a Lithuania-bound commercial flight to the Belarus capital of Minsk to take Pratasevich into custody in May 2021. He was placed under house arrest in June 2021, was forced to make several televised “confessions,” and has cooperated with authorities in the investigation, media reported.

Pratasevich was not transferred to a detention facility after the May 3 verdict, according to a representative from the banned human rights group Viasna, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

On Tuesday, Pratasevich told Belarusian state agency BelTA that he had just signed “all the relevant documents” stating that he was pardoned and called the decision “great news.” CPJ was unable to immediately determine when Pratasevich was released from house arrest.

Belarus is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with at least 26, including Pratasevich,  detained in the country at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census.