New York, January 18, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Belarusian authorities to drop all charges against journalist Aliaksandr Ziankou and to disclose the charges against journalist Ales Sabaleuski and the reason for the recent detention of journalist Yauhen Hlushkou.
On January 12, Minsk City Court began the trial of Ziankou, a freelance photojournalist, on charges of “participating in an extremist group,” according to Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
On June 22, 2023, authorities in Barysaw, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the capital, Minsk, detained Ziankou and transferred him to a temporary detention center in Minsk, after searching his home and seizing his computer equipment, according to those reports. A BAJ representative told CPJ, under condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, that Ziankou’s detention was not made public until his name appeared on the court’s website in January.
Separately, around January 4, Belarusian authorities detained Hlushkou, a former freelance camera operator, in the eastern city of Mahilou, according to independent news website Mediazona and the local human rights group Mayday, which reported that Hlushkou had not contacted any of his acquaintances since that date. Hlushkou is held in a temporary detention center in Mahilou, the BAJ representative told CPJ. Authorities did not disclose the reason for his detention, those sources said.
On January 15, BAJ reported that Sabaleuski, who was arrested December 12, had been transferred from a temporary detention center to a pre-trial detention center, indicating that criminal charges had been brought against him.
On December 13, a court in Mahilou ordered that Sabaleuski be held in a temporary detention center for 10 days for allegedly distributing extremist content, after which it extended the order, Mayday reported. News reports said Sabaleuski’s detention might be linked to the Belarusian security service (KGB) labeling two local independent news outlets, 6TV Bielarus and Mahilou Media, as extremist groups two weeks earlier.
“The detentions of journalists Yauhen Hlushkou, Ales Sabaleuski, and Aliaksandr Ziankou are yet another example of the Belarusian authorities’ relentless harassment of members of the press,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should immediately drop all charges against Ziankou, reveal any charges filed against Hlushkou and Sabaleuski, and ensure that members of the press are not jailed for their work.”
Authorities had previously detained Ziankou, who has been a freelance photojournalist since 1998, in August 2020, while he was covering nationwide protests demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee, the country’s law enforcement agency in charge of criminal investigations, for comment but did not receive any replies.
Belarus was the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 28 journalists behind bars as of on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census. Ziankou was not included in the census due to lack of publicly available information on his arrest at the time.