Belarusian law enforcement officers are seen in Minsk on August 14, 2020. Authorities recently sentenced journalist Aliaksandr Ziankou to three years in prison for allegedly participating in an extremist group. (AFP/Sergei Gapon)

Belarusian court sentences photojournalist Aliaksandr Ziankou to 3 years on extremism charges

New York, January 30, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Belarusian authorities to stop using extremism laws against journalists following a Belarusian court’s Tuesday sentencing of Aliaksandr Ziankou to three years in prison for allegedly participating in an extremist group.

“The sentencing of veteran journalist Aliaksandr Ziankou to three years in prison is yet another demonstration of how Belarusian authorities use extremism laws to retaliate against members of the press for their independent reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalism is not extremism. Belarusian authorities must drop all charges against Ziankou, release him and other jailed journalists immediately, and repeal the country’s shameful extremism legislation.”

A court in Minsk, the capital, convicted Ziankou of participating in an extremist organization, according to the banned human rights group Viasna and Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile. CPJ could not immediately determine whether Ziankou plans to appeal his sentence.

Ziankou’s trial began on January 12, six months after authorities detained him in June 2023 following a search of his home and seizure of his computer equipment. According to an unnamed former cellmate of Ziankou who spoke with BAJ, the charge stems from video footage found on his computer and posted on a website the authorities labeled as “extremist.”

Ziankou, who has worked with multiple media outlets as a freelance photojournalist since 1998, was previously detained in 2020 while documenting protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to BAJ and a BAJ representative who spoke to CPJ under the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

Belarus was the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s 2023 prison census, with at least 28 journalists behind bars on December 1.  Ziankou was not included in the census due to a lack of publicly available information on his detention at the time.