Belarusian freelance journalist Dzianis Ivashyn has been serving a sentence of 13 years and one month since September 2022 on charges of treason and “interfering with the activities of a law enforcement officer.” Officers of the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) detained Ivashyn in March 2021.
Ivashyn is a freelance investigative reporter for independent news site Novy Chas and a volunteer editor of the Belarusian-language website of the international investigative project InformNapalm, which reports on the Russian government’s role in military conflicts.
On March 12, 2021, KGB officers arrested Ivashyn at his home in the western city of Hrodna, according to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group that was banned in 2021 but continues to track journalist detentions from inside Belarus.
According to BAJ, the arrest was in response to Ivashyn’s recent article in Novy Chas alleging that former officers of the Ukrainian riot police unit Berkut, which was disbanded over allegations of brutal conduct in 2014, had been hired by the Belarusian police. The article, which named some of those officers, alleged that they took part in the crackdown on protesters after the contested 2020 Belarusian election.
On the day of Ivashyn’s arrest, law enforcement officers searched his apartment for several hours, according to BAJ and Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Volha Ivashyna, the journalist’s wife, was quoted by BAJ as saying that officers sought out anything in the Ukrainian language or related to Ukraine during the raid, confiscating phones, laptops, books, and business cards.
Also on March 15, 2021, authorities charged Ivashyna with “interfering with a law enforcement officer,” according to BAJ. A conviction carries up to three years in prison, according to Article 365 of the Belarusian criminal code.
On September 19, 2021, authorities charged him with treason, as well, according to news reports. Ivashyna told CPJ via phone that the charge, which according to Article 356, Part 1, of the criminal code, carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail, is “complete nonsense.”
The journalist’s mother Lyudmila Ivashyna was quoted as saying by Current Time, the Russian-language digital network created by U.S. Congress-funded broadcasters (RFE/RL) and Voice of America, that her son had suffered a heart attack after authorities placed him in solitary confinement between June 19 and 25, without disclosing a reason. She said that he was seen by a doctor.
On March 22, 2022, the KGB accused Ivashyn of cooperating with Ukrainian intelligence, according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate unofficially in the country.
The court also fined Ivashyn 4,800 rubles (US$1,880) and ordered him to pay a total of 18,000 rubles (US$7,050) in “moral compensation” to nine unidentified people in whose activities he allegedly interfered, according to those reports, Viasna, and Volha Ivashyna, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Ivashyn is in Prison No. 1 in Hrodna, according to Viasna.
Ivashyn filed an appeal on September 26, Volha Ivashyna told CPJ via messaging app in late September 2022, adding that no date had been set for a hearing.
Ivashyna said her husband had just been sent to solitary confinement for five days. “They still keep trying to break him psychologically. Naive personalities. Dzianis is very strong mentally, and physically he feels good,” she told CPJ.
On October 3, Ivashyna reported on Telegram that prison authorities had taken away her husband’s coat. On October 13, she reported that they had also taken away his towel and a photo of her. Ivashyn was again placed in solitary confinement from November 4 to 14, his wife reported.
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.