Minsk, 30 June. Detained journalist Andrej Aliaksandraŭ has been charged with high treason and may face up to 15 years in prison, his lawyer Anton Hašynski told BelaPAN.
The news of the charge has left Mr. Aliaksandraŭ “shocked,” according to the lawyer. The journalist denies the charge.
Mr. Aliaksandraŭ, who has been in custody since this past January, was earlier charged with organizing and preparing actions grossly disturbing public order. A person charged with the crime may not be held in custody pending trial for more than six months, meaning that the journalist should have been released next month if it were not for the fresh charge.
Mr. Hašynski said that his client was in fairly good health, using his right to regular open-air walks and reading books. Many letters sent to Mr. Aliaksandraŭ are delivered to him after much delay or never reach him at all, said the lawyer.
Mr. Aliaksandraŭ and his girlfriend, Iryna Zlobina, were arrested on January 12 on suspicion of financing anti-government protests. According to the interior ministry, they provided protesters with money to pay court-imposed fines, using money brought to Belarus from abroad for this purpose.
Criminal proceedings were instituted against the pair under Part Two of the Criminal Code’s Article 342, which penalizes the training and financing of people participating in group actions grossly disturbing public order.
On January 14, police officers conducted a three-hour search at BelaPAN’s office in Minsk within the framework of the inquiry against Mr. Aliaksandraŭ, who was BelaPAN’s deputy director general from 2014 to 2018. Computer hard drives, documents and handwritten notes were seized.
On April 12, the Investigative Committee of Belarus announced that it had instituted criminal proceedings against Aliaksiej Liavončyk and Andrej Stryžak, the two founders of a crowdfunding platform called By_Help, who are accused of providing funds to Mr. Aliaksandraŭ and Ms. Zlobina “to be subsequently used in their criminal activities”.
Human rights defenders argue that paying fines cannot be viewed as financing group actions grossly disturbing public order.
“Aliaksandraŭ was in fact engaged in a charitable activity because people – Belarusian residents and Belarusians living abroad – raised the money in order to help others. This is a legal activity, and even the tax authorities could hold nothing against it,” Valiancin Stefanovič, deputy chairperson of the unregistered Viasna Human Rights Center, told BelaPAN.
Mr. Stefanovič condemned the charge against Mr. Aliaksandraŭ as “absolutely unfounded” and linked it to his public and human rights activities.
Mr. Aliaksandraŭ and Ms. Zlobina have been placed on the Belarusian authorities’ list of individuals “prone to extremism”.
Belarusian human rights organizations have declared them political prisoners.
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