Police detained Belarusian journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva in November 2020 while she was reporting live on protests in Minsk, the capital. A court charged her with “organizing and preparing of actions that grossly violate public order” and placed her in pretrial detention for two months. In February 2021, a court sentenced her to two years in jail. In July 2022, another court convicted her of treason and sentenced her to eight additional years in prison. She was one of dozens of journalists detained for documenting nationwide protests after the disputed August 2020 presidential election calling on President Aleksandr Lukashenko to resign.
Andreyeva, a staff correspondent of a Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV in Belarus, covered socio-political events in text and video.
Police arrested Andreyeva and her colleague, camerawoman Daria Chultsova, on November 15, 2020, while the journalists were conducting a live video broadcast for Belsat TV from a 14th-floor apartment located above Chervyakova street (known by the Belarusian opposition as “The Square of Changes”) in Minsk. The journalists were broadcasting street clashes between security officials and the defenders of a memorial to Raman Bandarenka, according to a Belsat TV report. Bandarenka was a Belarusian man who had died on November 12 from head trauma allegedly inflicted by law enforcement officers.
Approximately 10 law enforcement officers broke down the door of the apartment, arrested Andreyeva and Chultsova without explaining the reasons for that arrest, and took the journalists to the Oktyabrskiy district police department, according to a Belsat TV report and Andreyeva’s husband Ihar Ilyash.
Ilyash, a Belsat TV reporter, was himself detained on November 24, 2020, and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest, according to a Belsat TV report and CPJ research.
On November 17, 2020, the Oktyabrskiy district court found Andreyeva guilty of participating in an unsanctioned protest action on November 15 and sentenced her to seven days of administrative detention, according to a Belsat TV report and Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
Three days later, a court charged Andreyeva with “organizing and preparing of actions that grossly violate public order” and placed her in pretrial detention for two months, according to the Belsat report and Haretski. That charge provides for a maximum penalty of four years in prison, according to Article 342, Part 1, of the Belarusian criminal code.
After Andreyeva’s arrest on November 15, 2020, she experienced a strong headache, threw up, and fainted, hitting her head on the floor of the police department, according to a Belsat TV report and Ilyash.
Andreyeva was taken under guard to the Minsk hospital No. 9, where doctors prescribed her mandatory rest and a consultation with a neurologist the following day, according to those sources. However, she was returned to the police department the same day and did not see a neurologist before being taken to Minsk’s Center for the Isolation of Offenders, informally known as the Akrestsin detention center, on November 16, 2020.
Ilyash told CPJ that during the first days of detention, Andreyeva’s condition worsened. She and 10 others were put in a cell designed for four people, he said, and forbidden to sit or lie down during the day despite being prescribed rest.
On February 18, 2021, the Frunzienski District Court of Minsk found Andreyeva and Chultsova guilty and sentenced them to two years in prison, according to Viasna, a banned human rights group. On April 23, the Minsk City Court upheld the sentence on appeal.
On April 7, 2022, Ilyash announced on Facebook that his wife had been charged with state treason following an investigation “conducted in complete secrecy,” and that authorities had not disclosed any information about the charge. The charge carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, according to Article 356 of the Belarusian criminal code.
During a closed hearing on July 13, 2022, a court in the southeastern city of Homel convicted Andreyeva of “giving away state secrets,” a form of treason, and sentenced her to an additional eight years in prison, according to media reports and Viasna.
Prior to the treason conviction, she had been scheduled to be released on September 5, 2022, Viasna reported.
On September 20, 2022, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Andreyeva’s sentence, Belsat TV reported. The court amended her indictment and replaced “giving away state secrets” with “espionage,” Belsat TV said.
On September 7, 2023, Ilyash wrote on Facebook that he believed the espionage charges stemmed from Andreyeva’s 2017 interview with Sergey Vasiliev, a former agent of the Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB), who was sentenced to 11 years in jail on state treason charges in 2021. Authorities had not officially disclosed any information on the charges as of late 2023, Ilyash told CPJ.
On October 24, 2022, the Ministry of Interior added Andreyeva to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, media reported.
In October 2023, Ilyash told CPJ via messaging app that he had a four-hour meeting with Andreyeva earlier that month. He said that he was getting letters from her “regularly,” and that she could talk by phone with her relatives “about once a week.”
“Unfortunately, prison affects my wife’s health: her allergies have worsened, her eyesight and hearing have deteriorated, and she suffers from headaches. She experiences enormous physical and psychological fatigue,” Ilyash said.
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.