On 3 August, the regional court in Homel, Belarus, sentenced journalist Iryna Slaunikava to 5 years in prison in a closed trial. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joins its affiliate the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) in calling for the annulment of this arbitrary and illegal court decision.
The journalist, who is vice-president of BAJ, was found guilty of organising collective actions seriously undermining public order and creating or leading an extremist group. The latter refers to the Belsat TV channel, which the Belarusian dictatorship considers an extremist organisation.
The proceedings lasted almost one and a half months. Judge Mikalai Dolya examined the case behind closed doors. The prosecutor was the representative of the prosecutor’s office Iryna Podkavyrova.
Iryna Slaunikava and her husband Alexander Loika were arrested in October 2021 at Minsk airport, while returning from a holiday in Egypt. They were sent to prison under administrative arrest, allegedly for “disseminating extremist materials” and later for “hooliganism”.
Alexander Loika was released after 45 days, but Iryna was never released. After a month of administrative arrest, she was charged in a criminal case for allegedly “organising and preparing actions seriously undermining public order.” The Belarusian judiciary then added new charges: “creation of an extremist group, or leadership of such a group or a structural unit that is part of it.”
The investigative committee claimed that during the investigation of the criminal case there was evidence that Slaunikava was the head of the Belsat channel. At the time of her arrest, Iryna Slaunikava had not cooperated with Belsat for a long time, but was a full-time employee of the Polish public television channel TVP.
“With this shameful and illegitimate verdict, the Belarusian judiciary equates the right to receive and disseminate information, guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights, with extremist activity,” said EFJ President Maja Sever. “The Belarusian dictatorship continues to persecute journalists who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression. Journalists are not extremists, and it is not a crime to hold opinions that differ from those of the authorities.”
“The EFJ joins BAJ in calling for the overturning of Iryna Slaunikava’s sentence and the immediate release of the 29 media professionals currently behind bars in Belarus, added EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez. “We call on the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE to take the necessary measures to identify and punish the agents of the Belarusian repression.”
Together with Belarusian Human Rights organisations, the EFJ and BAJ consider Iryna Slaunikava as a political prisoner.