Henadz Mazheyka

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The Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) detained journalist Henadz Mazheyka, a correspondent for the now-shuttered Belarusian edition of the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, in October 2021. He faces charges of incitement and insulting the president of Belarus. 

Mazheyka began working for Komsomolskaya Pravda’s Belarus edition in 2009, covering the automotive industry, armaments, and the army, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), 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, 2021, video statement on its official Telegram channel that the journalist had been 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 the president of Belarus,” a violation punishable by up to four years in jail, according to Article 368 of the country’s criminal code. The journalist was also charged with “inciting racial, national religious, or other social hostility or discord.” If found guilty of that offense, he could face a jail sentence of up to five years, according to Article 130, Part 1, of the 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.

Mazheyka’s detention conditions in Zhodzina, where he remained until December 25, were “intolerable,” according to Mazheyka’s mother Iryna, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app and in a phone interview in October 2022. In addition to overcrowded cells, Mazheyka’s mother said that “detainees could not receive either packages or any information,” adding that her son had called it “information hunger.”

On October 5, 2022, media reported that Mazheyka’s case was sent to court. His trial started on December 1, banned Belarusian human rights organization Viasna reported. Mazheyka pleaded not guilty, according to Viasna. 

Mazheyka’s mother told CPJ that Mazheyka did not have any health issues, but added, ”Nevertheless, we regularly send vitamin sets and tranquilizers for sleep disorders.”

According to a Telegram post by Viasna on October 2, 2021, Mazheyka had been criticized before his arrest by pro-government media for publishing an article about Andrei Zeltser, an opposition supporter who had died in a shootout with KGB officers in late September. Authorities accused Zeltser of killing one of the KGB officers when they burst into his apartment. In the article, Mazheyka had quoted a classmate who spoke positively about Zeltser, according to the BBC.

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, 2021, and the newspaper closed its branch in Belarus on October 6, according to reports. 

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.