Barbed wire fencing is seen at the Belarus-Ukraine border in February 2023. Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich was sentenced to four years in prison on November 3, 2023. (AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova)

Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich sentenced to 4 years in prison

New York, November 3, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Belarusian court’s Friday sentencing of journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich to four years in prison for allegedly discrediting Belarus.

“Alyaksandr Mantsevich’s four-year prison sentence, the highest provided under the charges laid against him, is yet another example of the Belarusian authorities’ resentful attitude towards independent journalists,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Belarusian authorities must drop all charges against Mantsevich, release him and other jailed journalists immediately, and let the media work freely.”

A court in the northwestern city of Maladzyechna convicted Mantsevich, the founder and editor-in-chief of regional independent newspaper Regyonalnaya Gazeta, on charges of discrediting Belarus and sentenced him to four years in jail and a fine of 14,800 Belarusian rubles (US$4,496), according to the banned human rights group Viasna and a Facebook post by his daughter Nasta Mantsevich. Alyaksandr Mantsevich denied the charges in court, Viasna reported.

CPJ could not immediately determine whether Mantsevich plans to appeal his sentence.

“I am not a dreamer, but I am sure that someday there will be a street named after the ‘Regyonalnaya Gazeta,’ which strengthened the authority of the Belarusian nation, lived by the concerns of its readers and wrote the truth,” Mantsevich said in his final statement on Thursday, Viasna reported.

Authorities detained Mantsevich on March 15. His trial began on September 27, according to a Facebook post by his daughter.

Authorities accused Mantsevich of having disseminated false information “discrediting Belarus and its authorities” in Regyonalnaya Gazeta from January 1, 2020, until the time of his arrest.

Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile, told CPJ 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.

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. In April, authorities labeled the outlet as “extremist.”

Belarus was the world’s fifth worst jailer of journalists, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.