Andrei Aliaksandrau

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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 a former staff member of the London-based nonprofit 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 independent advocacy and trade group operating from exile, who spoke to CPJ via phone. 

On June 30, 2021, authorities charged Aliaksandrau with treason, according to news reports, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years of imprisonment, according to Article 356, Part 1, of the country’s criminal code.

On August 27, 2021, the Belarusian Investigative Committee announced that Aliaksandrau was charged with tax evasion, according to Viasna, a banned human rights group. 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, 2021, the Belarusian State Security Committee declared BelaPAN an extremist group, news media reported. 

On November 18, 2021, 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. 

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 of public order "by paying" fines, detention food bills, attorney fees, and more, between August 14 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.

On September 1, 2022, Aliaksandrau and his girlfriend Iryna Zlobina, who was detained along with him on charges of treason and violating public order, got married behind bars, BAJ and Viasna reported. 

On October 6, 2022, 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. 

On January 6, 2023, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld the sentences of Aliaksandrau, Zlobina, Navazhylau, and Leushyna, BAJ reported.

On January 20, the Ministry of Interior added Aliaksandrau to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, Viasna reported. 

Aliaksandrau is held in Prison No. 1 in the northern city of Novopolotsk, according to Viasna. He has lost about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) since his arrest, Radio Svaboda reported. 

A former colleague of the journalists told CPJ via messaging app in October 2023, under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, that Aliaksandrau had recently seen his relatives and that he had no complaints about his health. 

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.