Henadz Mazheyka

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The Belarusian state security service, the KGB, detained journalist Henadz Mazheyka, a correspondent for the now-shuttered Belarusian edition of the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, on October 1, 2021. 

Mazheyka has worked for Komsamolskaya Pravda’s Belarus edition since 2009 covering the automotive industry, armaments, and the army, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group that was shut down by the government in 2021 but still operates on an unofficial basis. 

The Belarusian Ministry of Interior said in an October 4 video statement on its official Telegram channel that the journalist was arrested on October 1 “on the territory of Belarus” upon arrival from Russia. In the video ministry official Aleksey Begun said Mazheyka, who lives in Belarus, had traveled to Russia as part of an attempt to get to a third country when Russian authorities ordered him to return to Belarus because “his stay in Russia was undesirable.” 

The official also said Mazheyka was charged with “insulting a government official,” a violation punishable by up to three years in jail, according to the country’s criminal code. Mazheyka was also charged with “inciting racial, national religious or other social hostility or discord.” If found guilty of that offence, he could face a jail sentence of up to 12 years, according to the Belarusian criminal code.

According to BAJ, the KGB also searched Mazheyka’s apartment in Minsk on an unspecified date when he was not home. BAJ cited the journalist’s mother, who said that the search lasted two-and-a-half hours. Seven officers confiscated flash drives, stickers, and other items. 

On October 5, the journalist was taken from the Akrestina detention center in Minsk to another detention facility in the town of Zhodzina, near Minsk, according to the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. On October 15, the Minsk city court rejected the journalist’s appeal, according to reports.

According to Belarusian human rights group Viasna, posting on Telegram, shortly before his arrest Mazheyka had been criticized by pro-government media for publishing an article about Andrei Zeltser, an opposition supporter who died in a shootout in late September with KGB officers. Authorities accused Zeltser of killing one of the KGB officers when they burst into his apartment. (Viasna has been banned since 2003, though it continues to operate unofficially in Belarus.)

According to the BBC, Mazheyka had quoted a classmate who spoke positively about Zeltser. 

According to news reports, Belarusian authorities said they arrested hundreds of people in the wake of the shootout, as President Aleksandr Lukashenko blamed the death of the officer on the opposition. 

Belarusian authorities blocked the site of Komsomolskaya Pravda’s Belarus edition on September 29, and on October 6 the newspaper closed its branch in Belarus, according to reports. 

CPJ called former journalists of Komsomolskaya Pravda in Belarus but they said they were unable to speak about the case, citing company policy not to give interviews. 

CPJ was unable to determine the status of the journalist’s health in prison. 

CPJ called Volha Chemodanava, the head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, several times for comment but no one answered.