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.
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 RFE/RL as “agents of the regime” who had “kidnapped” Kuznechyk for “nothing more than being a journalist.”
Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a local trade and advocacy group operating unofficially in the country since it was banned this year, confirmed the arrest in a phone call with CPJ.
Belarusian authorities have blocked RFE/RL’s Belarusian service since August 2020, and authorities had annulled the accreditation of all Belarusian journalists working for foreign outlets in October 2020, according to BAJ.
On December 23, 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, 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, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Kuznechyk’s sentence, BAJ reported.
On September 9, Radio Svaboda reported that the Ministry of the Interior had added Kuznechyk to its list of “citizens involved in extremist activities.” 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 September 2022 that she had last seen her husband Kuznechyk in late summer, and that he now had a cough and a cold.
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.