Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Mantsevich is serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted in November 2023 on charges of discrediting Belarus. Belarusian authorities detained him in March 2023.
Mantsevich was editor-in-chief of regional independent newspaper Rehiyanalnaya Gazeta. The paper was “a leading” outlet covering news in the country’s northwest and had extensively reported on the disputed 2020 presidential elections and ensuing protests, Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), told CPJ via messaging app. He said the newspaper’s reporters had previously been detained over their protest coverage. In July 2021, Rehiyanalnaya Gazeta stopped issuing its print edition amid increasing pressure from authorities, according to media reports.
Belarusian authorities have jailed an increasing number of journalists for their work since 2020, when the country was wracked by mass protests over the disputed reelection of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Arrest and detention
On April 3, multiple media outlets reported that authorities had charged Mantsevich with having “disseminated knowingly false information discrediting Belarus and its authorities,” a charge that carries up to four years in prison, under Article 369.1 of the Belarusian criminal code.
Authorities alleged that Mantsevich disseminated false information in Rehiyanalnaya Gazeta from January 1, 2020, until the time of his arrest. In an April 3 statement reviewed by CPJ, the prosecutor-general’s office alleged that the outlet’s reporting contained inaccurate information aimed at “causing significant damage to state and public interests” and “destabilizing the situation among citizens of Belarus, forming false ideas about non-fulfillment of the rights and freedoms of citizens in the republic.”
In January 2022, authorities declared that Rehiyanalnaya Gazeta’s website and Telegram channel featured extremist content, according to news reports. In April 2023, authorities labeled the outlet as “extremist.”
Mantsevich’s trial started on September 27, 2023, at a court in the northwestern city of Maladzyechna, according to a Facebook post by his daughter Nasta Mantsevich.
On November 3, the court convicted Mantsevich 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. Mantsevich denied the charges in court, Viasna reported.
As of late November 2023, Mantsevich was being held in a pretrial detention center the western city of Baranavichy, according to Viasna.
In October 2023, a source close to Mantsevich’s case told CPJ via messaging app under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal that he was “holding up.”
In October 2023, CPJ called the Belarusian Ministry of Interior for comment, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.