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Belarus
19.10.22
Urgent Interventions

Belarus: Criminalisation of independent BelaPAN journalists

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

BLR 004 / 1022 / OBS 077
Sentencing /
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
At risk of torture and ill-treatment
Belarus
October 19, 2022

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the sentencing of three journalists of the banned independent media outlet BelaPAN, namely Ms Iryna Leushyna, editor in chief; Mr Dzmitry Navazhylau, Director; Mr Andrei Aliaksandrau, Deputy Director; as well as of the sentencing of independent journalist Ms Iryna Zlobina. BelaPAN was one of the largest and most prominent independent news agencies in Belarus, extensively covering the mass protests following the fraudulent elections of August 2020.

On October 6, 2022, in a closed-door trial, the Minsk Regional Court delivered four sentences:

  • Mr Aliaksandrau was sentenced to 14 years in prison on charges of “creating an extremist formation or leading it” (Part 1 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code), “high treason” (Part 1 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code), “tax evasion” (Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code) and “organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” (Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code);
  • Ms Zlobina - to nine years of imprisonment on charges of “high treason” and “organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order”;
  • Mr Navazhylau - to six years of imprisonment on charges of “creating and extremist formation and leading it” and “tax evasion”; and
  • Ms Leushyna was found guilty of “tax evasion” and sentenced to four years in prison.

All four were banned from holding certain professional positions for five years. Additionally, Ms Zlobina and Messrs Aliaksandrau and Navazhylau received fines ranging from 22,400 to 32,000 Belarusian rubles (9,110 to 13,000 Euros approximatively).

The Observatory considers the charges against the four journalists to be fabricated as part of the ongoing efforts of the Belarusian authorities to clamp down on freedom of expression, imposing censorship by detention on independent journalists in Belarus.

At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal the four journalists remained arbitrarily detained in pre-trial detention centre No. 1 in Minsk.

The Observatory recalls that Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina were arbitrarily arrested by officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus on January 12, 2021 and taken to pre-trial detention centre No. 1 in Minsk. In an official statement, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs accused them of “financing persons who took part in the protests in Minsk, including by paying fines and reimbursing the costs of imprisonment in the detention facilities of Minsk”.

The day after their arrest, on January 22, 2021, the offices of BelaPAN in Minsk were raided by the police and some pieces of equipment were seized.

On August 18, 2021, Iryna Leushyna and Dzmitry Navazhylau were arrested by the Belarusian security forces following raids in their homes and in the offices of BelaPAN in Minsk, and taken to pre-trial detention centre number 1 in Minsk.

On November 1, 2021, the State Security Committee of Belarus (KGB) declared BelaPAN and “extremist group”, effectively banning it amid the arbitrary closure of all Belarusian independent media groups and associations, including TUT.by, Nasha Niva and BAJ.

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing and the arbitrary detention of Iryna Leushyna, Dzmitry Navazhylau, Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina and urges the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them and quash their sentences. The Observatory further urges the authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against independent journalists covering human rights issues in the country, and to take all measures to respect and protect freedom of expression in Belarus.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Belarus to urge them to:

  1. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Iryna Leushyna, Dzmitry Navazhylau, Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina, as welle as of all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus, and respect and protect their right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment ;
  2. Immediately and unconditionally release Iryna Leushyna, Dzmitry Navazhylau, Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina, and all other detained journalists and human rights defenders, as their detention is arbitrary and seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate journalistic work;
  3. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against the above-mentioned journalists, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Aliaksandr Lukashenka, President of Belarus, Email: contact@president.gov.by;
  • Mr. Andrei Shved, General Prosecutor of Belarus, Email: info@prokuratura.gov.by;
  • Mr Dmitry Gora, Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, Email: sk@sk.gov.by;
  • Mr. Oleg Slizhevsky, Minister of Justice of Belarus, Email: kanc@minjust.by;
  • Mr. Vasily Gerasimov, Acting Chairman of the State Control Committee of Belarus, Email: kgk@mail.belpak.by;
  • Mr. Ivan Kubrakov, minister of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Email: pismo_mvd@mia.by;
  • Mr. Yury Ambrazevich, Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Email: mission.belarus@ties.itu.int;
  • H.E. Mr. Aliaksandr Mikhnevich, Embassy of Belarus in Brussels, Email: belgium@mfa.gov.by

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Belarus in your respective countries.

***

Geneva-Paris, October 19, 2022

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT and are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39
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