Detained BelaPAN employees recognized as political prisoners

Belarusian human rights activists have recognized BelaPAN director Iryna Leushyna, former director of the BelaPAN news agency Dzmitry Navazhylau and company accountant Katsiaryna Boyeva detained on 18 August as political prisoners.

BelaPAN director and editor-in-chief Iryna Leushyna with Ales Lipai’s “Pride of Journalism” award for Belsat journalists Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova. Minsk, Belarus. April 9, 2021. Photo: TK / Belsat

The statement was signed by eight human rights organizations and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, which published it.

The human rights activists consider the detentions and searches of BelaPAN workers “a continuation of the purposeful policy of the authorities to limit the spread of uncensored information in the country and the attack on the freedom of speech.”

Formally, Iryna Leushyna, Zmitser Navazhylau, and Katsiaryna Boyeva have been detained under criminal proceedings for “organization or preparation of actions that grossly violate public order.” Human rights defenders are convinced that the real motives are political, and the actions of law enforcement officers are aimed at stopping or changing the character of BelaPAN’s legitimate activities.

Human rights activists demand the immediate release of BelaPAN workers and other political prisoners, who currently number over 630. They also demand that the use of criminal prosecution as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression be stopped.

BelaPAN is the first independent Belarusian news agency, founded in 1991. The agency sells news to other publications and institutions and runs the online newspaper

In January 2021, BelaPAN was already searched. Then the searches were carried out by officers of the Department of the Economic Crimes of Minsk City Executive Committee in the case of media manager Andrei Alyaksandrau. The journalist worked as deputy director of BelaPAN in 2015-2018. On January 12, he was detained as a suspect under Article 342 of the Criminal Code. According to the Interior Ministry, the journalist paid 250 fines between August 22 and November 9, the money he received from the BY_help initiative. On June 30th, he was charged under part 1 of article 356 of the Criminal Code, “Treason against the state.” Now Alyaksandrau faces from 7 to 15 years of imprisonment. Belarusian human rights activists declared Andrei Alyaksandrau, a political prisoner.

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