Two journalists recognized as political prisoners
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
June 8, 2022
On May 18, 2022, the KGB searched the editorial office of Belorusy i rynok and the home of the newspaper director Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh. Mr. Zalatykh was detained and his laptop and means of communication were seized. The lawyer of the detainee was unable to meet with his client for almost a week and the whereabouts of the newspaper director remained unknown.
Mr. Zalatykh was charged under Part 2 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (incitement to hatred, combined with violence or committed by an official), which provides for three to ten years of imprisonment. He is currently kept in pre-trial detention center in Žodzina.
On May 26, 2022, the house of Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk a journalist for Belorusy i rynok, was also searched. Mr. Liubenchuk was detained as part of the criminal case and taken to the temporary detention facility in Minsk. The journalist has been charged, however, the criminal article charged against Mr. Liubenchuk is not known because his lawyer is under a non-disclosure pledge.
We, the undersigned organizations, consider all these actions in relation to Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh and Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk as a continuation of the targeted policy of the authorities to limit the dissemination of uncensored information in the country and a continuation of the attack on freedom of speech. After the 2020 presidential election, dozens of NGO and media websites have been blocked in Belarus, a number of printed media has been closed, and journalists and employees of the Belarusian media sector have been imprisoned.
Given the circumstances, we believe that the criminal prosecution of Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh and Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk is politically motivated and aimed at stopping or changing the nature of their legitimate public activities in the sphere of non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.
Based on this and guided by para. 2.1 and 3.1 of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners adopted at III Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, human rights defenders, recognize Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh and Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk as political prisoners and call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- the immediate release of Mr. Kanstantsin Zalatykh and Mr. Aliaksandr (Ales) Liubenchuk and the termination of criminal prosecution against them;
- refrain from using criminal prosecution as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression, or other rights and freedoms;
- immediately release all political prisoners, as well as other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and stop political repression in the country.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Human Rights Center Viasna