New York, December 8, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention of Belarusian journalists Liudmila Andenka and Yulia Dovletova, and calls on Belarusian authorities to release them immediately.
“Belarusian authorities continue using their shameful ‘extremism’ legislation by imprisoning journalists who have worked for media that they have arbitrarily banned from operating in the country,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said. “Authorities should drop all charges against former Ranak journalists Liudmila Andenka and Yulia Dovletova, release them immediately, and ensure that no journalists are jailed for their work.”
On Thursday, December 7, authorities in the southeastern city of Svietlahorsk detained Andenka and Dovletova, respectively a former reporter and former editor-in-chief of Ranak.me, a website affiliated with privately-owned broadcaster Ranak, according to multiple media reports, the advocacy and trade group Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), which operates from exile, and a Facebook post by former Ranak reporter Andrei Lipski.
Speaking to CPJ via email, Lipski said that both Andenka and Dovletova are being held at a temporary detention center for 72 hours. Authorities charged Dovletova with “creating an extremist formation or participating in it,” Lipski told CPJ, without specifying if Andenka was facing the same charges. If found guilty, Dovletova faces up to 10 years in jail, according to the Belarusian Criminal Code.
The status of Alena Shcherbin, Ranak’s former director with whom contact was lost on Thursday evening, was still unknown as of December 8, according to a BAJ representative who spoke to CPJ under condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
“My relatives received calls from the police demanding access to my apartment in Svietlahorsk,” Lipski, who is located outside Belarus, wrote on Facebook.
Lipski told CPJ that a court will decide on Monday whether to extend the journalists’ detention. “We all, former [Ranak employees], are very worried about the fate of our colleagues,” he said.
On September 5, the Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs labeled the privately-owned broadcaster Ranak an “extremist formation,” BAJ reported. In June, authorities detained four Ranak journalists, including Lipski, on charges of distributing extremist materials and held two of them for several days. The persecution of the outlet and its journalists allegedly stemmed from Ranak’s coverage of a June 7 explosion of a pulp and paper mill in Svietlahorsk, BAJ reported.
Belarusian authorities had previously searched the outlet’s office and some of its journalists’ apartments in 2020 and 2021. In 2020, Ranak covered the nationwide protests demanding Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s resignation.
CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee, the country’s law enforcement agency in charge of criminal investigations, for comment but did not receive any response.
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 annual prison census.
Editor’s note: The spelling of Yulia Dovletova’s last name has been corrected in the second paragraph.