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Belarus: Sham trial against BelaPAN news agency highlights stifling of independent media

Responding to the news that a court in Belarus today started considering a case against independent news agency BelaPAN, which sees editor-in-chief Iryna Leushyna, former director Dzmitry Navazhylau, former deputy director Andrey Alyaksandrau — and his partner Iryna Zlobina — charged among other things with creating an “extremist group”, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said:

“The BelaPAN case epitomizes how independent media in Belarus has been stifled in the two years since the disputed presidential election concluded and the authorities started a brutal campaign to crush dissent. Bogus accusations of ‘extremism’ are repeatedly being leveled against journalists who dare to provide independent reporting despite the risk of spending years behind bars.

The BelaPAN case epitomizes how independent media in Belarus has been stifled in the two years since the disputed presidential election concluded and the authorities started a brutal campaign to crush dissent

Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

“The Belarusian security forces have ramped up arrests of state critics in response to their peaceful dissent, while the courts pass increasingly harsh and unjust sentences. These actions clearly violate Belarus’s obligations under international human rights law. The authorities’ onslaught on free speech must end.

“All charges against Iryna Leushyna, Dzmitry Navazhylau, Andrey Alyaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina must be dropped. And all reporters and media professionals imprisoned solely for carrying out their legitimate journalistic work of keeping the public informed and uncovering abuses of power must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Background

The defendants in the BelaPAN case face numerous charges including the “creation of an extremist group”, “high treason” and “tax avoidance”, among others. They face up to 15 years in jail on “high treason” charges only.

On 18 August 2021, the Belarusian authorities searched BelaPAN’s editorial headquarters and the homes of several employees. They also confiscated equipment, blocked the agency’s websites and seized servers. Iryna Leushyna and Dzmitry Navazhylau were arrested the same day, while Andrey Alyaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina were placed in pre-trial detention six months earlier, having been accused of collaborating with the BY Help Foundation, which supports victims of political reprisals.

BelaPAN was arbitrarily banned in November 2021 after being labeled by the authorities as an “extremist organization.”