Belarusian journalist Iryna Slaunikava has been in Belarusian custody for six months. The former co-worker of Belsat and now a full-time employee of TVP is a political prisoner and will soon stand trial. She was accused of committing crimes under several articles of the Criminal Code. Her father claims that the regime has no evidence of his daughter’s guilt, but nevertheless will convict her in a trial behind closed doors. As he points out, her ancestors shed blood in the fight against the Nazis, the German occupiers.
Iryna Slaunikava and her husband Alyaksandr Loyka were detained on October 30, 2021, at Minsk airport, when they were returning from vacation. Initially, the couple was sentenced to 15 days in jail for “sharing extremist content on Facebook”. The Belarusian Interior Ministry accused the couple of sharing Belsat’s materials from a period when the station was not yet considered an extremist media outlet.
After serving the first sentence, the spouses were not released. The police took them from the detention center to the police station, where they found out that they were being detained again — this time for petty hooliganism. Then they were again sentenced to 15 days in jail.
On November 26, 2021, the journalist was declared a suspect in a criminal case and was transferred to Minsk’s Detention Center No. 1. Her husband was released after serving another 15 days — this time for “disobeying the orders of police officers”.
The journalists of TVP Info spoke about the criminal case against the Polish TV journalist with her father, Alyaksandr Slaunikau. He is the only person providing information about the condition of his daughter, who is a political prisoner, and the ongoing proceedings.
Iryna was initially charged under article 342 of the Criminal Code, part 1. This article covers the “organization of group actions grossly violating public order or participation in them” Alyaksandr says.
This is the paragraph often used against participants in opposition marches after the presidential election rigged by the Alyaksandr Lukashenka regime. It is punishable by restriction of freedom for 2 to 5 years of imprisonment for up to 4 years. It was under this article that the journalists of Belsat TV, Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, were sentenced to 2 years in a penal colony. They had been accused of organizing the action in memory of Raman Bandarenka, who had been tortured by the regime.
“But some time ago, when the lawyer complained about Iryna’s arrest and detention in the Investigative Detention Center, he learned that she was also charged under part 1 of article 361-1, which reads as follows: “creating an extremist grouping, as well as a grouping whose activities are aimed at rehabilitating Nazism, or directing such a grouping or a subordinate structure that is part of it,” the journalist’s father said. “Initially, a suspended sentence was envisaged, because article 361, as far as I remember, could mean up to 7 years in prison,” he adds.
The Investigative Committee does not provide the media with information about the proceedings against Iryna Slaunikava. All the lawyers defending her have been ordered not to disclose the investigation data. As a result, even the journalist’s parents and husband do not know what exactly she is accused of.
“Accusing my daughter of creating an extremist group and rehabilitating Nazism is completely illogical, given her roots and the upbringing she received in our family,” says Alyaksandr Slaunikau.
He himself is a senior reserve officer, a distinguished veteran of military aviation. In the Soviet times, he graduated from the prestigious Gagarin Military Aviation Academy and retired from the staff of the Belarusian Air Force. He stresses that the journalist’s ancestors shed blood in the fight against the Nazis.
“Iryna is the granddaughter of Great Patriotic War veterans. My father, her grandfather, Uladzimir Sazonavich Slaunikau, was a partisan. My wife’s father, Mikhail Andreyevich Burenkou, was an airman in a bombing regiment. They were decorated with numerous orders and medals for their fight against the Nazis, German occupiers,” says the father of the journalist.
Iryna’s great-grandfather, Sazon Maksimavich Slaunikau, was executed by fascists for his connections with partisans. Hence the question as to where in our family thoughts about some groups, Nazis, etc. could have come from. We cannot understand it at all. Iryna was brought up as a patriot of her homeland. She is a supporter of an independent and sovereign Belarus. Just like our ancestors who shed their blood for our homeland, for the victory and independence of our homeland,” she continues.
On 3 November 2021, after Iryna Slaunikava’s arrest, the Belarusian Interior Ministry recognized the independent Belsat TV as an extremist formation. The journalist had cooperated with this media outlet in the past, but at the time of her arrest, she was a full-time employee of the TVP.
“My daughter used to work in Belsat TV, but that was 10 years ago, and maybe even more. Now she cooperates with the Polish Television, where she was employed. If TVP is considered an extremist organization, I am shocked”, says Slaunikau.
The journalist’s father stresses that Belsat is considered to be an extremist group only by the Interior Ministry, and no Belarusian court has passed a judgment on the matter. Thus, it should have no evidential value in his daughter’s case.
According to the lawyer, he did not find any evidence of Iryna’s guilt in the case materials and from his point of view they are just “piles of paper”. Nevertheless, the case was handed over to the prosecutor’s office last week and may go to court as early as next week. According to the defendant’s father, it is also to be expected that spectators and media will not be allowed to be present at the trial.
“The lawyer says there are no grounds for the trial to be held behind closed doors. Nevertheless, he believes the hearings will be kept secret. For the reason that the evidence base is very weak and if the trial goes public, everyone will understand that Iryna is not guilty of the crimes of which they accuse her,” the father reports.
Due to the absurdity of the charges and the lack of evidence, her relatives very much hope that she will walk out of court a free person. They are aware, however, that acquittals do not happen in trials of journalists in Belarus.
“Whatever happens, we know that our daughter is innocent and she will be rehabilitated. And let this verdict weigh on the conscience of those who will pass it,” Alyaksandr Slaunikau concludes the interview.