Belarusian journalist Siarhei Satsuk is serving a prison sentence of eight years after being convicted in October 2022 on charges of taking a bribe, inciting hatred, and abusing power or authority. Satsuk, the chief editor of the independent Yezhednevnik news website, was first arrested in March 2020 and then released the next month. He was detained again in December 2021.
On March 25, 2020, officers of the State Control Committee, which oversees the country’s financial investigations, detained Satsuk, according to news reports and Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarussian Association of Journalists (BAJ), who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Officers also searched Yezhednevnik’s offices and seized documents, according to a report by the BAJ, which was shut down by the government in 2021 but still operates on an unofficial basis. On March 31, the State Control Committee opened a criminal case against Satsuk, accusing him of accepting a bribe of $5,000, according to Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, which continues to operate in the country unofficially.
Satsuk was released in April 2020, according to BAJ. However, he was detained again on December 8, 2021, after having his home searched and being taken for questioning to the Belarusian Investigative Committee in connection with the 2020 bribery case, according to multiple news reports. Belarusian authorities blocked Yezhednevnik’s website the same day, those reports said.
On June 9, 2022, BAJ reported that Satsuk had been charged with inciting hatred under Article 130, Part 2, of the criminal code, and abuse of power or official authority under Article 426, Part 2, of the code. BAJ reported that authorities had not disclosed any information about the new charges.
Satsuk’s trial began on September 23 at the Minsk City Court, according to Viasna.
On October 26, the court found Satsuk guilty of taking a bribe, inciting hatred, and abusing power or authority, and sentenced him to eight years in jail, according to media reports and a statement by BAJ.
The court also fined Satsuk 16,000 Belarusian rubles (US$6,360) and banned him from holding certain positions for five years after his release from prison, according to those reports. In addition, the court ordered Satsuk to pay 12,384 Belarusian rubles (US$4,930) in compensation, the reports said.
Satsuk intended to appeal the verdict, his brother Aliaksandr told CPJ. As of December 1, Aliaksandr did not have any updates on the appeal, he told CPJ.
On September 30, Satsuk’s brother told CPJ that Satsuk’s physical condition was more or less fine, “given the conditions in which he is now.”
“Naturally, the imprisonment is taking its toll. He has lost a lot of weight, and is pale and gray,” Satsuk’s brother said. “But other than that, he is fine. He is fighting and trying to prove his innocence. And now we can only hope for a miracle.”
He said that the judge in charge of his brother’s case had rejected almost every motion that was against the prosecution.
Satsuk’s family was quoted as saying by Narodnaya Volya in an October 20 report that the journalist was feeling fine despite having heart problems and needing constant medication.
On November 12, BAJ reported that Satsuk had been moved to Penal Colony No. 4 in the eastern city of Mahilou before his appeal.
Haretski said that Satsuk’s arrest in March 2020 followed Yezhednevnik publishing reports on the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 23, 2020, Satsuk had published an editorial criticizing Belarusian authorities’ handling of the coronavirus and alleging that they had disseminated false information about the virus.
Aliaksandr Satsuk denied the bribery allegation against his brother, calling it “lies and nonsense” in an interview with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
On March 26, 2020, following his arrest, the BAJ published an article that Satsuk had written in case he was arrested, saying that he had previously received anonymous threats telling him to stop reporting and “think about his family and himself.” Satsuk also said that the arrest could be in retaliation for his investigative reporting into alleged corruption at the Health Ministry.
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.