Iryna Slaunikava

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Belarusian journalist Iryna Slaunikava has been serving a five-year sentence since August 2022 on charges of creating an extremist group and organizing or participating in gross violations of public order. She was arrested in October 2021 with her husband Aliaksandr Loika, who is not a journalist. 

Slaunikava is a Belarus-based journalist for the Poland-based independent Belarusian broadcaster Belsat TV, which extensively covered the 2020 protests against the contested reelection of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Authorities labeled Belsat TV as “extremist” in July 2021 and also blocked its website and social media accounts within Belarus. 

Slaunikava was also the deputy chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group operating from exile. 

On October 30, 2021, Belarusian authorities at Minsk National Airport detained Slaunikava and her husband when they returned from vacation in Egypt, according to BAJ. Authorities accused Slaunikava and her husband of storing and sharing Belsat TV articles on their Facebook pages, according to news reports and Viasna, a banned human rights group. 

On November 1, 2021, the Pershamaiski District Court in Minsk charged and convicted Slaunikava and Loika of “distributing information containing calls for extremist activity” based on their Facebook activity, sentencing each of them to 15 days in detention, according to the same reports. 

During the court hearing, Loika said that he and Slaunikava had been transported from the airport to the Akrestsina Detention Center in Minsk, according to BAJ. 

On November 3, 2021, the Interior Ministry decreed that any citizens who used “online resources” to support Belsat TV would be considered members of an extremist group, according to media reports and BAJ

On November 16, 2021, the district court convicted Slaunikava and Loika of “minor hooliganism” and sentenced them to 15 additional days of administrative detention, according to BAJ

Slaunikava spoke about the conditions in detention during that hearing, saying that her cell inmates had lice, and that she wasn’t allowed letters or telegrams, according to BAJ. 

On November 26, 2021, Slaunikava was charged with “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order,” according to a Belsat TV report and Viasna. That charge carries a sentence of up to four years in prison, according to Article 342, Part 1, of the country’s criminal code. 

On April 29, 2022, the Belarusian Investigative Committee reported that she was also charged with creating an extremist group, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison, according to Article 361-1, Part 1, of the criminal code. 

During a closed hearing on August 3, 2022, a court in the southeastern city of Homel convicted Slaunikava of “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order” and “creating an extremist group,” according to media reports and Viasna. Prosecutors accused Slaunikava of participating in a 2020 protest calling for Lukashenko’s resignation and of creating and managing a group that shared “extremist materials” in Polish media, according to those sources.

Slaunikava denied the charges, according to BAJ. After the hearing, Loika told CPJ via messaging app that the prosecution had requested six years in prison just before the trial ended. 

On December 6, 2022, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Slaunikava’s sentence, according to media reports and BAJ. 

On December 16, 2022, the Ministry of Interior added Slaunikava to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, Viasna reported. 

Slaunikava is held in Detention center No. 4 in Homel, according to Viasna

In March 2023, BAJ reported that Slaunikava’s eyesight had deteriorated in prison. In October 2023, Loika told Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that Slaunikava’s health had worsened in prison, including her vision. 

Also in October, Loika told CPJ that Slaunikava seemed to be doing fine physically and psychologically, adding, “But there is something in her letters that tells me that [she] is changing, a lot of bad things are happening, apparently, behind the fence.” 

In October 2023, CPJ called the Belarusian Ministry of Interior for comment, but nobody answered the phone. CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee but did not receive any replies.