Statement of human rights organizations on recognition of Andrei Tolchyn as a political prisoner
On September 27, 2023, former journalist Andrei Tolchyn was detained in Homeĺ. The next day, the security forces searched Andrei's apartment. As a result, the investigators took computer equipment and other digital devices. Andrei Tolchyn was transferred to pre-trial detention center No. 3 and a criminal case was opened against him.
Andrei Tolchyn is the creator of the Homeĺ city newspaper Homeĺ Vedamastsi, a freelance journalist who has collaborated with several independent periodicals. Tolchyn has been repeatedly detained and tried for journalistic activities since 2017. After the protests of 2020, the journalist decided to leave the profession.
We, the undersigned organizations, believe that these actions against Andrei Tolchyn are a continuation of the purposeful 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, journalists and employees of the Belarusian media sector have been imprisoned.
Given the circumstances, we believe that criminal prosecution of Andrei Tolchyn is politically motivated and aimed at stopping or changing the nature of his 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 Andrei Tolchyn as political prisoner and call on the Belarusian authorities to:
- immediately release Andrei Tolchyn and drop criminal charges against him;
- refrain from using criminal prosecution as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression, or other rights and freedoms;
- immediately release all political prisoners and stop political repression in the country.
Belarusian Association of Journalists;
Human Rights Center Viasna;
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House;