Law enforcement officers arrested Belarusian journalist Ihar Ilyash in November 2020 at his apartment in Minsk, the capital, and sentenced him to 15 days of detention for “participating in an unsanctioned event.” He was one of dozens of journalists detained in connection with their coverage of widespread demonstrations in the second half of 2020 calling on President Aleksandr Lukashenko to resign.
Ilyash is a staff reporter at the independent Poland-based satellite broadcaster Belsat TV, where he covers political issues. In recent months, Ilyash has been providing commentary on the protests in Belarus in his analytical Telegram channel Belorusskii Donbass, on his Facebook page, to Current Time–a TV network affiliated with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty–and also as a permanent expert on the Russian Dozhd TV channel, according to news reports and a CPJ review of his work.
On November 24, 2020, starting at 7 p.m., Ilyash stopped responding to his colleagues’ messages and phone calls, and did not show up at a meeting scheduled with them on that day, which made them worry, according to news reports. His brother, Vadim Ilyash, who went to his apartment in Minsk, the capital, to check on the journalist, found that he was not there; he also found a document stating that law enforcement officers had searched the apartment, and that Ilyash’s computer and phone had been confiscated, according to reports. However, according to those reports, the document did not state the names of the people who had conducted the search, the reasons for the search, or for Ilyash’s detention. Later that day, reports said, Ilyash’s brother found out that the journalist was held in detention in the Center for the Isolation of Offenders, informally known as Akrestsin detention center.
Ilyash was arrested on charges of “participating in an unsanctioned rally” in Minsk on October 26, 2020, according to a news report about his court session on November 25, 2020, as well as a report by the Belarussian Association of Journalists, an independent trade group, and Barys Haretski, the association’s deputy head, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. Haretski told CPJ that one likely reason for Ilyash’s arrest was retaliation for his active and vocal support of his wife, Katsiaryna Andreyeva, also a staff correspondent for Belsat TV, who was arrested on November 15, 2020, and as of late 2020 was being held in pretrial detention on criminal charges of “organizing and preparing of actions that grossly violate public order,” according to CPJ research. Haretski also said Ilyash’s own journalistic publications–often critical of the state–and his active coverage of the anti-Lukashenko protests in Belarus could have been a factor in his arrest.
Police in Belarus have been routinely arresting and charging journalists covering the antigovernment protests with “participating in unsanctioned rallies,” and sentencing them to short stays in prison or fines, CPJ has documented.
On November 25, 2020, during a session of the Central District Court in Minsk, Ilyash provided details regarding his detention, according to news reports. He said that on November 24, three plainclothes law enforcement officers opened his apartment door with a key, which he believes they had confiscated from his wife. The officers presented Ilyash with a warrant allowing them to confiscate Andreyeva’s equipment, but then confiscated Ilyash’s equipment as well, according to those reports. They then took Ilyash to the Central District police department, purportedly as a witness in his wife’s case; once there, they charged him with participating in an unsanctioned rally, those reports said.
Ilyash said that during the time identified of his alleged participation in the October 26 rally, he was visiting Minsk automobile and motor plants that are located far away from where the rally took place in order to cover a story, making his attendance at that rally impossible, those reports said.
The evidence against Ilyash was presented in the form of testimony from a witness who introduced himself as “Aleksandr Aleksandrovich”; the witness confused the facts in his statement and could not recall a number of important details, such as what clothes Ilyash was wearing, according to news reports.
On November 25, 2020, Central District Court of Minsk found Ilyash guilty of “participating in an unsanctioned rally” on October 26, and sentenced him to the 15 days of administrative arrest, according to news reports. During the court session, Ilyash remained at the Akrestsin detention center and participated via video call; he did not admit his guilt and stated that the accusation against him was a lie and a retaliation for his journalistic work, according to those reports.
Ilyash, who as of late 2020 was being held at the Akrestsin detention center, did not report any health issues in detention, according to Haretski.
In November 2020, CPJ emailed a request for comment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus but did not receive any response.