Statement on recognizing five members of Press Club Belarus as political prisoners
Minsk – January 13, 2021
On December 22, financial police detained Yuliya Slutskaya, founder of the Press Club media and education institution, Ala Sharko, Press Club’s program director, Siarhei Alsheuski, Press Club’s financial director, videographer Piotr Slutski, and Kseniya Lutskina, a former employee of the government-owned TV and radio holding “Belteleradiocompany” related to a media project co-run by Press Club’s Academy.
The apartments of several employees and Press Club’s office were searched.
The Department of Financial Investigations of the State Control Committee said that it was investigating violations of the tax legislation of the Republic of Belarus involving employees of Press Club Belarus and other business entities, including in connection with large sums of money received from abroad.
On December 31, the detainees were charged with committing a crime under Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code (tax evasion on a large scale). They were remanded in pre-trial detention. Yuliya Slutskaya and her associates are currently held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk.
It is known that Press Club’s Academy organized a hackathon of media projects, which featured more than 30 proposals. The jury, consisting of media experts and investors, selected 7 media projects aimed at promoting freedom of speech, one of which was a video project with the participation of Kseniya Lutskina, a former employee of Belteleradiocompany.
The arrest and detention of Yuliya Slutskaya, Ala Sharko, Siarhei Alsheuski, Piotr Slutski, and Kseniya Lutskina are a continuation of the wave of repressions triggered by the announcement of the presidential election in early May 2020. Over the 10 months, thousands of citizens, including journalists and bloggers, NGO activists, were subjected to various forms of repression and harassment: dismissals, short terms of administrative imprisonment, fines, and politically motivated criminal charges.
This is described as a crisis of human rights by the country’s human rights community.
It should be noted that it is not the first time that the Belarusian authorities use fraud allegations to carry out repressions. In recent years, Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Henadz Fiadynich, leader of the independent trade union REP, Ales Lipai, head of the Belapan news agency, and others have been prosecuted on politically motivated charges of tax evasion.
Given these circumstances, we conclude that the true grounds for the criminal prosecution of Yuliya Slutskaya, Ala Sharko, Siarhei Alsheuski, Piotr Slutski, and Kseniya Lutskina are political motives aimed at terminating or affecting their public activities carried out for legitimate purposes as part of civil society organizations in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.
Based on this, guided by paragraphs 2.1, 3.1 a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners, adopted at the 3rd Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations, recognize Yuliya Slutskaya, Ala Sharko, Siarhei Alsheuski, Piotr Slutski, and Kseniya Lutskina as political prisoners and call to:
- immediately release Yuliya Slutskaya, Ala Sharko, Siarhei Alsheuski, Piotr Slutski, and Kseniya Lutskina from custody;
- refrain from using criminal charges as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression and freedom of association;
- immediately put an end to repression and release all political prisoners.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian Documentation Center
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Initiative Group “Identity and Law”
Assembly of Non-Governmental Democratic Organizations of Belarus