Ksenia Lutskina

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Independent journalist Ksenia Lutskina has been serving an eight-year sentence since September 2022 on charges of conspiring to seize state power. In late December 2020, law enforcement officers arrested Lutskina as part of a tax evasion investigation into Press Club Belarus, a now-shuttered professional educational and media organization that had supported her work. 

Lutskina worked as a correspondent of the state broadcaster Belteleradio, known locally as BT, for 15 years until August 2020. At the broadcaster, she made historical documentaries, including one on the 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent advocacy and trade group operating from exile.

Following the government crackdown on media after the August 2020 contested presidential elections, Lutskina and several of her colleagues went on strike to protest the government’s actions against the press and resigned from the broadcaster, according to BAJ.

She and several colleagues had planned to start an independent media outlet, to be launched on YouTube in January 2021, that Press Club Belarus supported with training, according to BAJ and Current Time, a Russian-language digital network supported by U.S. Congress-funded broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America.

On December 22, 2020, police officers detained Lutskina and searched her apartment, according to her father Aleh Lutskin, who spoke to CPJ via phone. Authorities confiscated a laptop, phone, and USB flash drives, according to news reports.

Authorities also arrested Press Club Belarus employees that day, including founder Yulia Slutskaya, director Siarhei Alsheuski, program director Alla Sharko, camera operator Petr Slutski, and Siarhei Yakupau, director of the club’s media education project, according to news reports.

On December 31, 2020, the Belarusian Investigative Committee charged Slutskaya with tax evasion in relation to her work as Press Club Belarus’ founder, and charged Alsheuski, Slutski, Sharko, and Lutskina with complicity in that crime, according to BAJ and Anton Gashinski, a lawyer representing Slutskaya and Alsheuski, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

On July 21, 2021, the Minsk City Executive Committee, the city administration headed by a presidential appointee, initiated the dissolution of Press Club Belarus, according to Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of RFE/RL, an announcement on the press club’s Telegram channel, and the organization’s file in a state register of legal entities.

On August 19, 2021, Slutskaya, Alsheuski, Sharko, and Slutski were released from prison in what Press Club Belarus said on Facebook was an “an act of pardon.” After her release, Slutskaya was quoted as saying by Current Time that she and her colleagues had signed a petition asking President Aleksandr Lukashenko for a pardon and confessing to tax evasion. After that, a court found them guilty of the charge and ordered them to pay the taxes they allegedly evaded — a total of 107,000 Belarusian rubles (US$42,000), according to a news report

Lutskina was not released because she refused to sign the petition asking for pardon, according to the same report. Slutskaya added in the Current Time interview that she had met Lutskina briefly at a medical office in the detention center and that Lutskina had told her she could not confess to something she did not do. 

Lutskina’s tax evasion case was later dismissed, according to banned human rights group Viasna, which did not specify when the charges were dropped. 

On July 7, 2022, the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office reported that Lutskina was charged with an unconstitutional “conspiracy to seize state power,” which can carry a punishment of up to 12 years in jail, according to Article 357, Part 1, of the Belarusian criminal code. 

On September 1, 2022, Lutskina’s trial began in a court in Minsk. Belarusian authorities accused the journalist of having “prepared, edited, corrected various statements and appeals” of the Coordination Council, a Belarusian non-governmental body created in 2020 by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and thereby contributed to the “destabilization of the political, social, economic, and informational situation in the country,” according to BAJ

On September 28, 2022, the court convicted Lutskina of “conspiracy to seize state power” and sentenced her to eight years in prison, Viasna reported. 

On December 27, 2022, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Lutskina’s sentence, Viasna reported

On January 13, 2023, the Ministry of Interior added Lutskina to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, according to Viasna. 

In July 2023, Lutskin announced that his daughter will apply for pardon.

Lutskina is in Prison No. 4 in Homel, according to Viasna. 

The journalist’s father told CPJ in September 2022 that Lutskina had a pre-existing brain tumor that had grown in detention. He said his daughter suffers from bad headaches on the left side of her head, where the tumor is located, and that the doctor who treated her after a previous surgery had refused to come to see her in detention out of fear. 

In February 2023, Lutskina fell ill with bilateral pneumonia, BAJ reported. 

In October 2023, her father told CPJ that the journalist periodically fainted and that she needed a medical checkup. “She’s in bad health. She takes painkillers every day,” he 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.