BAJ reached out to UN Special Rapporteur regarding Dzianis Ivashyn's case

13.09.2022 Source: BAJ

In a letter to the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Belarusian Association of Journalists told the officer about the gross violation of the right to freedom of expression of Belarusian journalist Dzianis Ivashyn. BAJ hopes for an immediate reaction from the UN Human Rights Council.

The letter informed the Special Rapporteur Irene Hahn about Dzianis Ivashyn, a Belarusian investigative journalist, a freelance correspondent of “Novy chas” newspaper, as well as the editor of the Belarusian service of InformNapalm website,  is currently imprisoned in Hrodna Prison No. 1.

On March 11, 2021, Dzianis was giving an interview on the air of the TV channel “Current time” about the third part of his investigation of the former members of the disbanded in Ukraine special unit "Berkut", who after fleeing from Ukraine joined the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.  Ivashyn found out that there are more than ten "ex-Berkut officers" in the Belarusian OMON, who have received the Belarusian citizenship and were hired by the police with violations of the law. According to his information,  "ex-Berkut officers" participated in the suppression of mass protests in 2020 and, among other things, acted as prosecution witnesses in the trials against the activists. According to the journalist and his spouse, he took all the data for the investigation from open sources.

On March 12, 2021 his apartment in Hrodna was searched and Dzianis was detained and taken into custody. On March 20, 2021 it became known that Dzianis Ivashyn was charged under Art. 365 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus (interference in the activities of an internal affairs officer), which is sanctioned by a fine, or arrest, or imprisonment of up to three years.

On March 24, 2021, the Belarusian human rights community recognized Dzianis Ivashyn as a political prisoner.

During his time in detention, Dzianis was repeatedly punished with solitary confinement. When Dzianis Ivashyn was in solitary confinement from 19 to 24 June 2021, the journalist had a heart attack. According to the journalist's mother, her son had no heart problems before the arrest, and the cause of the attack was the conditions of detention - "It's very hot in the cell, the windows are closed, and the prison administration won't let me give him a fan".

In September 2021 Dzianis Ivashyn was charged under Part 1 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code (high treason), which provides imprisonment of seven to fifteen years with a fine or without a fine.

On February 21, 2022 the Court of Kastrychnitski district of Hrodna rejected the appeal to change the measure of restraint for journalist.

On March 22, 2022 the State Security Committee claimed that the journalist worked for the intelligence services of Ukraine and caused damage to the national security of Belarus. The Ministry also claimed that the Ukrainian project InformNapalm, where Ivashyn was the editor of the Belarusian page, was created and operated "in the interests of the Main Department of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine”. According to the official position, Ivashyn's actions "went far beyond journalistic work”.

According to the journalist’s spouse Volha Ivashyna, Dzianis could not have access to any secret information and, in order to prepare his investigations, he studied information from open sources, the references to which are clearly indicated in his publications.

On May 7, 2022, the journalist's spouse reported that the investigation was over, and on June 10, 2022, she learned that the case had gone to trial.

On August 15, 2022 and August 17, 2022, the Hrodna Regional Court held behind closed doors the first court hearings. The next court hearing is scheduled for 12 September 2022.

Article 19 of the ICCPR enshrines the right of everyone to freedom of expression, including the right to impart information of all kinds in writing or in print. In its General Comment No. 34 the Human Rights Committee emphasized that extreme care must be taken by States parties to ensure that treason laws  and similar provisions relating to national security are crafted and applied in a manner that conforms to the strict requirements of paragraph 3. It is not compatible with paragraph 3 to invoke such laws to suppress or withhold from the public information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security or to prosecute journalists for having disseminated such information.

Over the past two years, the Belarusian media have faced unprecedented pressure from the State, which has the sole purpose of completely destroying independent journalism in Belarus. The tightening of the legal regulation of media, the recognition of a number of independent media outlets as "extremist formations" and their publications as "extremist materials," the restrictions on free access to independent media websites, the closures of independent media, as well as creating the obstacles to the distribution of printed media are only a small part of the large-scale repressive policy that the authorities have deployed. Mass arbitrary detentions of media representatives (480 cases in 2020, 113 cases in 2021), often accompanied by physical and psychological violence, as well as damage or seizure of professional equipment and prosecution in the form of administrative arrests and fines; also became one of the tools in the fight against independent journalists. However, one of the most egregious forms of persecution is the initiation of politically motivated criminal cases against individual representatives of mass media.

The criminal proceedings against Dzianis Ivashyn under Article 356 and Article 365 of the Criminal Code on the grounds of his lawful exercise of journalistic activities constitutes a flagrant violation of his freedom of expression.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists calls on you to respond urgently to this communication and to appeal to the Belarusian government to immediately stop the political persecution of journalist Dzianis Ivashyn.