Belarusian journalist Pavel Mazheika is serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted in July 2023 on charges of facilitating extremist activity. Belarusian authorities detained him in August 2022.
On August 30, 2022, law enforcement agents in the western city of Hrodna searched the home of Mazheika, a former journalist with independent Poland-based online television station Belsat TV, and detained him, according to news reports and a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
Mazheika’s trial started on July 10, 2023, at a court in Hrodna, according to reports by Viasna and BAJ. On July 26, the court convicted Mazheika of facilitating extremist activity and sentenced him to six years in a high security prison at the request of a state prosecutor, according to Viasna and BAJ. Mazheika denied the charges, those reports said.
Mazheika was tried alongside Yuliya Yurhilevich, a lawyer who was also sentenced that day to six years in prison. Authorities accused the journalist of posting information about Yurhilevich’s disbarment and the sentence of Ales Pushkin, the dissident Belarusian artist who later died in prison, on Belsat’s website, according to Viasna and a BAJ representative, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. Yurhilevich allegedly shared this information with Mazheika over the phone in February and March 2022.
Mazheika’s wife Iryna Chernianka was quoted as saying by Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, that Mazheika had been working for Belsat TV since its creation and stopped before Belarusian authorities labeled the broadcaster as “extremist” in July 2021.
On October 17, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld the sentences for Mazheika and Yurhilevich, according to BAJ. After his appeal was rejected, Mazheika was transferred to an unspecified prison, BAJ reported.
In October 2023, Chernianka told CPJ via messaging app that Mazheika was doing “more [or] less OK,” but that his family could not send him his medicines.
On November 17, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior added him to its list of people allegedly involved in extremist activity, according to BAJ.
Previously, in March 2021, Mazheika was detained for three days in a case involving accusations of the rehabilitation and justification of Nazism, in relation to an exhibit at the Urban Life Center in Hrodna, which he was heading at the time.
In June 2002, Mazheika was convicted of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko and sentenced to two years of corrective labor over his reporting for independent weekly newspaper Pahonya. His sentence was later reduced to 12 months. He was one of the first journalists convicted under a criminal libel law passed in 1999, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison for libeling the president, according to CPJ’s research.
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.