Yahor Martsinovich

Beats Covered:
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Yahor Martsinovich, chief editor of independent Belarusian news website Nasha Niva, has been serving a sentence of two and a half years since March 2022 on charges of “causing damage without signs of theft.” 

Belarusian authorities detained Martsinovich on July 8, 2021, in a crackdown on Nasha Niva that included raids on his and other journalist’s apartments as well as the news website’s office. 

Martsinovich joined Nasha Niva in 2009 and became its chief editor in 2017, according to his employer. The outlet extensively covered the months of protests that followed the contested August 2020 reelection of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and was declared an extremist group in January 2022, according to Radio Svaboda, the Belarusian-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 

Martsinovich was reported to have sustained head injuries when security officers beat him during his arrest, and another four of the outlet’s employees were also arrested.

At the local office of the Belarusian Investigative Committee, authorities interrogated Martsinovich on allegations of “organizing or preparing acts that violate public order” and “mass riots,” according to news reports and Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a banned trade and advocacy group that continues to operate unofficially inside the country. 

On the same day, the Ministry of Information blocked Nasha Niva’s website, and the ministry posted a statement saying that prosecutors accused the outlet of distributing unlawful information.

Martsinovich was ordered detained for 72 hours, but was not released at the end of that period. On July 28, authorities officially charged him with “causing damage without signs of theft,” according to Viasna, a banned human rights organization that continues to operate unofficially in the country. The charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, according to Article 216, Part 2, of the Belarusian criminal code. 

Haretski told CPJ that the charge relates to the allegation that Martsinovich and Andrey Skurko, the news website’s head of advertising and former chief editor, who was also arrested, had caused damage to the state electricity company by paying a personal rate for power at the Nasha Niva office, rather than a business rate. According to Nasha Niva, the two were accused of causing the company 3,500 Belarusian rubles (US$1,380) in losses. 

On September 1, the Investigative Committee denied the journalist’s petition to release him on bail, Nasha Niva reported.

On March 15, 2022, the Zavodski District Court in Minsk convicted Martsinovich and Skurko of “causing damage without signs of theft” and sentenced them to two years and six months in prison, according to Nasha Niva. The conviction came despite their having reimbursed the electric company for 10,000 rubles (US$3,950) in alleged damages, which was an increase from the initial estimate of 3,500 rubles, according to the report. 

Martsinovich and Skurko denied the charges, arguing that the apartment housing Nasha Niva’s office was not subject to commercial utility rates, according to the report. Martsinovich added that he was not responsible for administrative decisions, the report said.

On May 20, a court in Minsk upheld Martsinovich and Skurko’s sentences, Viasna and BAJ reported.

Martsinovich is held in Prison No. 2 in Bobruisk, according to Viasna

CPJ reached out to Adaria Gushtyn, Martsinovich’s wife, via messaging app in October 2022 to ask about her husband’s health status but did not receive any reply.

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.