Yahor Martsinovich

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Belarusian authorities detained Yahor Martsinovich, chief editor of independent news website Nasha Niva, in July 2021 in a crackdown on the outlet that included raids on Martsinovich’s and other journalist’s apartments and 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 after the contested August 2020 reelection of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko.

On July 8, 2021, officers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs raided Nasha Niva’s office, detained Martsinovich, and raided his apartment, according to reports. They also searched the apartments of the outlet’s four other employees, who were also arrested. Security officers beat Martsinovich during the arrest, injuring his head, the same reports said. 

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

On the same day, the Belarusian 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 time frame; weeks later, 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. 

Haretski told CPJ that the charge relates to the allegation that Martsinovich and the news website’s head of advertising, the former chief editor Andrei Skurko, who was also arrested, were paying a personal rather than a business rate for electricity at the Nasha Niva office and therefore caused damage to the state electricity company. According to Viasna, the two are accused of causing the company 3,500 Belarusian rubles (US$1,420) in losses. 

If found guilty of “causing damage without signs of theft,” the journalist could face up to five years in prison, according to Belarusian criminal code. 

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

Martsinovich is held in Detention Center No. 1 in Minsk, informally known as Valadarskaga, according to Viasna

In November 2021, CPJ called the Ministry of Interior’s press service but the phone was not answered. CPJ also emailed a request for comment to the Belarusian National Press Center, which covers the activities of the president, the national assembly, the council of ministers, the Belarus president’s administration, and other government bodies, but did not receive any response.