Jail Or Exile? Belarusian Journalists Under Constant Attack From the Government

On July 13th, the Homel Regional Court in Belarus again made headlines as 28-year-old Belsat TV journalist Katsyaryna Andreeva was sentenced to an additional eight years in prison for “state treason” under Article 356 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. At the time, Andreeva was already serving a two-year prison sentence for live-streaming a protest in 2020. The new sentence came with no further details disclosed or with any evidence presented to support the allegation of “state treason.”

Andreeva was initially detained in November 2020, alongside her collogue, camerawomen Darya Chultsova, while live streaming a protest against President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s disputed re-election in August 2020. Both women were charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code with “organising and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and were handed a two-year prison sentence, with a release date of September 5th, 2022. However, the new trial behind closed doors on July 4th, 2022, has now sentenced Andreeva to another eight years in prison on new charges of high treason. What is even more upsetting is that the details of the trial and the allegations still remain unclear, and the case being prosecuted so close to the end date of her existing sentence makes the circumstances of the charges further suspicious.

Article 11 of the E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights, Freedom of expression and information, ensures everyone’s rights to express their opinions and the freedom and pluralism of the media to be respected. However, the Belarusian government has consistently failed to adhere to such principles, as indicated by Belarus being the world’s fourth largest jailer of journalists, according to Reporters Without Borders. The state has disrespected the fundamental freedoms of its citizens who wish to exercise their right to express themselves through writing.

In reaction to the new sentence, Dominique Pradalié, President of the International Federations of Journalists, said, “Katsiaryna Andreeva’s additional sentence is utterly shocking and shows once more the regime’s attempts to intimidate and silence journalists. We demand Katsiaryna’s immediate release.” President of the European Federation of Journalists Maja Sever further added, “they have gone so far as to prosecute an already unjustly imprisoned journalist on new trumped-up charges. This judicial harassment and increased repression of journalists demonstrate the true nature of the dictatorial regime in Belarus.”

Belarusian and international human rights organisations have acknowledged Andreyeva and Chultsova as political prisoners and are advocating for all charges against them to be dropped. Andreyeva and Chultsova are only the latest journalists to be jailed in a long. According to Reporters Without Borders, 33 journalists and media workers are currently in prison simply for doing their job. Since coming into power in 1994, President Lukashenko has initiated a crackdown on non-state media outlets and independent journalists, labeling them as extremist organisations and ultimately shutting them down. Journalists now face the difficult decision: whether to stay and end up in jail or flee their country and live in exile. The current events are not just about the rights of journalists limited to one country, they are also about the criminalisation of the free press and the scare tactics used against them, in an attempt to silence the voice of the people. Freedom of media stands as a symbol of a healthy and functioning democracy across the world and as such the international community must continue to exert pressure on the Belarusian government to halt its blatant abuse of power against journalists and free media.