The group of colleagues will have to spend at least two more months behind bars, Alyaksandra Slutskaya, a daughter of the imprisoned Press Club Belarus founder, said on Friday morning. They have been behind bars since the end of 2020.
“The term of their being in custody was extended for another 2 months, until June 23. There have been still no results of the tax audit,” she wrote on Facebook.
According to the woman, no investigative actions have been being carried out with Yuliya Slutskaya, Pyotr Slutski, Ala Sharko and Syarhei Alsheuski; they are just being held in prison. “The cold, black and terrible night is still going on,” Alyaksandra Slutskaya added.
On December 21, the Press Club Belarus founder Yuliya Slutskaya was met at the airport upon her arrival in Minsk and taken to the Department of Financial Investigations. Yet at the same time, the police searched the flats of the organisation’s directors Ala Sharko, Syarhei Alsheuski, Syarhei Yakupau. They also raided the office of the independent organisation, and Slutskaya’s home in Minsk. On the same day, Slutskaya, Sharko, Alsheuski, Yakupau, Press Club cameraman Pyotr Slutski, Kseniya Lutskina (she is related to a media project co-run by Press Club’s Academy) were placed in detention. Later, Yakupau, who is not a citizen of Belarus, was released and deported to Russia.
They are accused under Art. 243-2 of the Criminal Code (large-scale tax evasion) and Art. 16-6 (complicity in a crime) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. According to Belarusian human rights defenders, the criminal prosecution is politically motivated and aimed at ‘terminating or affecting their public activities carried out for legitimate purposes as part of civil society organisations in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.’ In mid January, eleven human rights watchdogs recognised Slutskaya, Sharko, Alsheuski, Slutski, Lutskina as political prisoners and called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release them.
As reported earlier, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey announced limiting the activities of a number of foundations in Belarus and reviewing their humanitarian, educational and cultural programs in the wake of the third package of sanctions imposed on Belarusian officials by the European Union. It is known that Press Club Belarus launched a number of its educational programs in cooperation with the embassies of several EU member states.
Press Club, Belarusian media workers’ meeting point and a venue for lectures and discussions on the current social and political situation in Belarus, is financed, inter alia, by EU countries.