Andrei Aliaksandrau, founder and chief editor of the news website Belaruski Zhurnal, is serving a 14-year sentence on charges of high treason, creating an extremist group, large-scale tax evasion, and violating public order. Belarusian authorities arrested Aliaksandrau in January 2021 and initially charged him with violating public order for allegedly paying the court fines of journalists and activists arrested covering the protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s contested August 2020 reelection. Aliaksandrau was later charged with tax evasion, extremism, and treason.
Aliaksandrau is a former deputy director of the independent Belarusian news agency BelaPAN and former staff member of the London-based non-profit press freedom organization Index on Censorship, according to the Index. Belaruski Zhurnal covers social and political issues in Belarus, including the COVID-19 pandemic and gender-based violence.
Authorities arrested Aliaksandrau on January 12, 2021, and charged him with violating public order, according to news reports and Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group that was banned by the government in 2021 but continues to track journalist detentions from inside Belarus, who spoke to CPJ via phone.
On June 30, authorities charged Aliaksandrau with treason, according to news reports, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years imprisonment, according to Article 356, Part 1, of the country’s criminal code.
On August 27, the Belarusian Investigative Committee announced that Aliaksandrau was charged with tax evasion, according to banned Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, which continues to operate in the country unofficially. The charge carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison, according to Article 243, Part 2, of the criminal code.
On November 1, the Belarusian State Security Committee declared BelaPAN an extremist group, news media reported.
On November 18, Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that Aliaksandrau and other former and current BelaPAN employees, including former director Dzmitry Navazhylau and director and chief editor Iryna Leushyna, had been charged with “creating an extremist group,” punishable by up to seven years in prison under Article 361-1, Part 1, of the criminal code. BelaPAN correspondent Tanya Korovenkova confirmed the charges to CPJ by messaging app.
On April 4, 2022, news media reported that the prosecutor’s office had sent a case to a Minsk court against Aliaksandrau, Navazhylau, and Leushyna. Aliaksandrau was charged with high treason, creating an extremist group, large-scale tax evasion, and violating public order, according to those reports and Viasna.
The authorities accused Aliaksandrau of preparing at least 260 people to participate in gross violations or public order "by paying" fines, detention food bills, attorney fees, and more between August 14, 2020, and January 12, 2021, and of “assisting a foreign organization and its representatives in activities aimed at harming the national security of Belarus,” the reports said.
A closed-door trial of Aliaksandrau, Navazhylau, and Leushyna began in Minsk on June 6, according to BAJ’s Telegram channel.
On September 1, Aliaksandrau and his girlfriend Iryna Zlobina, who was detained along with him and faces charges of treason charges and violating public order, got married behind bars, BAJ and Viasna reported.
On October 6, the court sentenced Aliaksandrau to 14 years in prison and fined him 32,000 Belarusian rubles (US$12,550), according to Viasna.
The court also handed down sentences of nine years to Zlobina, six years to Navazhylau, and four years to Leushyna, Viasna reported.
Aliaksandrau is held in the Pretrial Detention Center No. 2 in the northeastern city of Vitebsk, according to Viasna.
Korovenkova told CPJ via messaging app in October 2022 that Aliaksandrau had filed an appeal. On October 20, media reported that Aliaksandrau, Leushyna, and Navazhylau had all appealed the verdict.
Aliaksandrau was feeling fine and remained in good spirits after the verdict, Korovenkova said.
In September 2022, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.