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 is also the deputy chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent trade and advocacy group which was banned in 2021 but continues to operate in the country unofficially.
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 articles by Belsat TV on their Facebook pages, according to news reports and Viasna, a banned human rights group that continues to operate unofficially.
On November 1, 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 were transported from the airport to the Akrestsina Detention Center in Minsk, according to BAJ.
On November 16, the district court convicted Slaunikava and Loika of “minor hooliganism” and sentenced them to 15 more days of administrative arrest, 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, 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, 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. He said his wife plans to appeal her conviction.
In September 2022, Loika told CPJ that Slaunikava had no health issues. He said her appeal is scheduled for December 6.
Slaunikava is held in Detention center No. 3 in Homel, according to Viasna.
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.