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. While at the broadcaster, she made historical documentaries, including one on the 1986 nuclear explosion at Chernobyl, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a local advocacy and trade group that the authorities banned in 2021 and that continues to operate unofficially from inside Belarus.
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, which the 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, 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, 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 organization’s Telegram channel, and the organization’s file in a state register of legal entities.
On August 19, Slutskaya, Alsheuski, Sharko, and Slutski were released from prison in what Press Club Belarus described on Facebook as 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 Lutskina told her she could not confess to something she did not do.
Lutskina’s tax evasion case was later dismissed, according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate unofficially in the country, 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, 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.
Aleh Lutskin told CPJ via messaging app that Lutskina was planning to appeal her sentence.
The journalist’s father told CPJ in September 2022 that Lutskina had a pre-existing brain tumor that had grown in detention. He said Lutskina suffers from bad headaches on the left side of her head, where the tumor is located. He also said that the doctor who treated her after a previous surgery had refused to come to see her in detention out of fear.
Lutskin was quoted as telling Narodnaya Volya that “things are not going well” with his daughter’s health. “The disease doesn’t go away, so she has constant headaches, and her hands and feet are shaking,” he said.
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.