Belarusian journalist Andrey Kuznechyk was detained in Minsk, the capital, in November 2021 and sentenced to six years in prison on charges of creating an extremist group in June 2022. He is serving his sentence at Prison No.1 in the northern city of Novopolotsk.
Kuznechyk is a freelance correspondent for Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
On November 25, 2021, Kuznechyk returned to his Minsk home after a bike ride accompanied by four men dressed in plain clothes, according to Radio Svaboda, citing the journalist’s wife, Alesya Rak. The four men searched the apartment and took money and mobile phones belonging to the journalist and his wife, Rak told Radio Svaboda. They ordered Kuznechyk to go with them and said they were taking the journalist for a couple of days, without disclosing the charges against him, according to Rak.
Rak told RFE/FL that the men did not identify themselves as law enforcement, but RFE/RL President Jamie Fly described them in a report by the outlet as “agents of the regime” who had “kidnapped” Kuznechyk for “nothing more than being a journalist.”
Belarusian authorities have blocked RFE/RL’s Belarusian service since August 2020, and authorities annulled the accreditation of all Belarusian journalists working for foreign outlets in October 2020, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group operating from exile. On December 23, 2021, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior designated Radio Svaboda as “extremist,” according to the broadcaster and other news outlets.
On May 26, 2022, banned Belarusian human rights group Viasna reported that Kuznechyk had been charged with “creating an extremist organization or participating in it,” which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison, according to Article 361-1, Part 1, of the Belarusian criminal code.
On June 8, 2022, in a closed-door trial, the Mahilou Regional Court found Kuznechyk guilty of “creating an extremist group” and sentenced him to six years in jail, Radio Svaboda reported.
On August 12, 2022, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Kuznechyk’s sentence, according to a BAJ report.
On September 9, 2022, Radio Svaboda reported that the Ministry of the Interior had added Kuznechyk to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity. In Belarusian prisons, prisoners on this list are marked with special yellow tags, according to BAJ. This status also limits the duration of Kuznechyk’s wife’s visits to 24 hours, according to a Radio Svaboda report, which Rak confirmed to CPJ via messaging app.
Kuznechyk is held in Prison No. 1 in the northern city of Novopolotsk, according to Viasna.
Rak told CPJ in late October 2023 that Kuznechyk was “feeling more or less fine,” but that he had been sick “without any major consequences” a couple of times over the last year. She added that he had lost weight and gotten sunburns from working outside six days a week. She could communicate with him via letters, she said, but added that they could rarely talk over the phone. “He misses his children,” said Rak.
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.