Belarusian journalist Vyacheslau Lazarau is serving a prison sentence of five and a half years after being convicted in September 2023 on charges of participating in an extremist group Belarusian authorities detained Lazarau in February 2023.
Lazarau is a freelance camera operator who has covered local news.
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 February 9, 2023, law enforcement in the northeastern city of Vitebsk detained Lazarau after searching his home as part of an unspecified criminal investigation, according to media reports. Authorities did not disclose the reason for the journalist’s detention.
According to relatives quoted in those news reports, police officers threw Lazarau on the floor during his arrest and tied his hands behind his back. They seized cell phones and a video camera from his home. Police also confiscated cell phones and a laptop from the home of his wife, Tatsiana Pytko.
Authorities also detained Pytko on June 6 after investigators examined the content of Lazarau’s computer and phone and saw her in some of the footage, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.
The closed-door trial of Lazarau and his wife began on September 5 at a court in Vitebsk. Authorities accused Lazarau of cooperating with the banned Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV and claimed that Pytko helped him, according to the banned human rights group Viasna.
On September 25, the court convicted Lazarau of facilitating extremism and sentenced him to five and a half years in prison, according to Viasna. His wife was convicted of participating in an extremist group and sentenced to three years in prison.
On November 22, the Belarusian Supreme Court reduced Lazarau’s sentence by six months and changed his charges to “participating in an extremist group,” according to BAJ. The court also changed Pytko’s sentence to a suspended sentence. She was released on November 24, BAJ reported.
Lazarau is held at a pretrial detention center in Vitebsk, according to Viasna.
In November 2023, Belarusian human rights defender Pavel Levinau told CPJ by phone that Lazarau was coping psychologically, but that he did not have any information on Lazarau’s physical state.
Lazarau was previously detained in 2020 while documenting the protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to BAJ and Viasna. Authorities previously fined Lazarau in 2018 and 2019 for “illegal production of media products,” those reports said.
CPJ could not locate contact information for Lazarau’s family.
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.