Media workers in BelaPAN case sentenced to up to 14 years in jail
On October 6, 2022, the Minsk Regional Court pronounced the verdicts on the high-profile BelaPAN case—four political prisoners were sentenced to harsh jail sentences and large fines.
Judge Viachaslau Tuleika sentenced journalist and media manager Andrei Aliaksandrau to 14 years' imprisonment, sociologist and activist Irina Zlobina—to nine years, editor-in-chief and BelaPAN director Iryna Leushyna—to four years, and former agency director Dzmitry Navazhylau—to six years. In addition, the court ordered the following fines: 32,000 rubles ($12,600) for Aliaksandrau, 25,600 rubles ($10,100) for Zlobina, and 22,400 rubles ($8,900) for Navazhilau. They are also prohibited from holding certain positions for five years. The trial continued for four months and was closed to the public, although few pro-government journalists were allowed to take pictures in the courtroom.
Political prisoners were found guilty under a number of articles of the Criminal Code:
- ‘organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order’ (Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code)—Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina
- ‘high treason’ (Part 1 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code)—Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina
- ‘creating an extremist formation and leading it’ (Part 1 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code)—Andrei Aliaksandrau, Iryna Leushyna, and Dzmitryi Navazhylau
- ‘evasion of taxes and fees’ (Part 2 of Article 243 of the Criminal Code)—Andrei Aliaksandrau and Dzmitryi Navazhylau
Andrei Aliaksandrau and Iryna Zlobina have been held behind bars for almost 21 months. They were detained together on January 12, 2021. A few days later, in an official statement, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Henadz Kazakevich said that Aliaksandrau and Zlobina had been detained “on suspicion of financing protest activities”. According to the official, since August 2020, Aliaksandrau and Zlobina had been "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.”
On June 30, 2021, Aliaksandrau and Zlobina faced new charges—of ‘high treason’—under Part 1 of Art. 356 of the Criminal Code. Apparently, the reason for this was cooperation with the BY_help Foundation in “activities aimed at harming the national security of Belarus.”
On August 18, 2021, Dzmitry Navazhylau and Iryna Leushyna were detained as part of a criminal case following a search and interrogation by the Investigative Committee. Their case was merged with the case of Aliaksandrau and Zlobina.
As a result, Andrei Aliaksandrau and Dzmitry Navazhylau were accused of tax evasion for February 2015–April 2021. The damage was estimated at 449,000 Belarusian rubles (about $177,000).
In November 2021, the KGB recognized BelaPAN as an extremist group. Aliaksandrau, Navazhylau and Zlobina were charged with with ‘creating and managing an extremist formation’ under Part 1 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code. Iryna Zlobina is the only person involved in the case who never worked with BelaPAN.
On April 8 this year, it was also stated that the investigation of the BelaPAN case established funding for “extremist activities” totaling at least four million dollars.