Yauhen Merkis

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Former Belarusian journalist Yauhen Merkis is serving a four-year prison sentence after being convicted in May 2023 on charges of creating or participating in an extremist group and facilitating extremist activities. Belarusian authorities detained Merkis in September 2022. 

On September 13, 2022, law enforcement authorities in the southeastern city of Homel detained and searched the home of Merkis, a former freelance journalist, according to a Telegram post by Belarusian human rights group Viasna and a report by local advocacy and trade group Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ). Both Viasna and BAJ are banned in Belarus.

Law enforcement also searched the home of Merkis’ girlfriend Sviatlana Kastsenka on that day, BAJ reported. On September 14, 2022, police searched the apartment of Merkis’ father and seized phones and a laptop, Viasna reported. 

On September 15, 2022, human rights group Homelskaya Viasna reported that Merkis was charged with facilitating extremist activity under Article 361-4, Part 1 of the Belarusian criminal code.

Merkis contributed reporting about the 2020 protests and was repeatedly detained and fined in connection to his journalistic activity, Viasna reported. He stopped working in journalism after authorities labeled several independent media outlets he worked with as extremist organizations, BAJ reported. Merkis was previously detained while covering protests in 2017. 

Authorities accused the journalist of sending pictures about the presence and movement of Russian military equipment in the Homel region to Telegram channels labeled “extremist” by the authorities. 

On May 30, 2023, a court in Homel convicted Merkis of creating or participating in an extremist group and facilitating extremist activities, according to reports by Viasna and BAJ. The court also confiscated the journalist’s car, laptop, and phone, Viasna reported.

On August 29, the Belarusian Supreme Court upheld Merkis’ sentence, BAJ reported.

Merkis is serving his sentence at the Prison No. 17, in the northeastern city of Shklow, according to Viasna and BAJ. 

As of mid-November, Merkis did not have health issues and was doing fine, according to BAJ.

CPJ could not locate contact information for Merkis’ 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.