Former Belarusian journalist Larysa Shchyrakova is serving a prison sentence of three and a half years after being convicted in August 2023 on charges of discrediting Belarus and facilitating extremism. Authorities detained her in December 2022.
Shchyrakova worked as a freelance journalist from 2007 until February 2022, when she announced she was leaving journalism amid continued government harassment and detentions. Since leaving journalism, Shchyrakova has worked as a photographer documenting Belarusian cultural practices, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
Belarusian authorities have jailed an increasing number of journalists for their work since 2020, when the country was wracked by mass protests over the disputed reelection of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.
Arrest and detention
On July 27, 2023, Shchyrakova’s closed-door trial began at a court in Homel. Authorities accused the journalist of posting on the internet alleged “false information” discrediting Belarus from August 2020 to December 2022 to “destabilize the situation in the country” and of collecting, creating, processing, storing, and transmitting information to the banned human rights group Viasna and the banned Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV, according to Viasna and BAJ.
On August 31, the court convicted Shchyrakova of discrediting Belarus and facilitating extremism and sentenced her to three and a half years in prison and a fine of 3,700 Belarusian rubles (US$1,465), according to those reports. She did not appeal her sentence.
On September 22, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior added her to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, according to Viasna.
Shchyrakova is serving her sentence at the Prison No. 4 in Homel, according to Viasna and BAJ.
In November 2023, human rights defender Leonid Sudalenko said on Facebook that Shchyrakova did not have any health issues and was working as a seamstress in prison.
CPJ messaged Shchyrakova’s sister in October 2023 but did not receive any response.
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.