Journalists Padabed and Lazarau recognised as political prisoners

29.03.2023 Source: spring96.org

Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community

On January 20, 2023, journalist Pavel Padabed was arrested. On the same day, his house was searched and his computer and other media were confiscated. The journalist was then sentenced to 15 days of administrative imprisonment under Article 19.11 of the Code of Administrative Offenses (“Distributing extremist materials”), which he served in the pre-trial detention center of the Minsk district. On February 4, 2023, the day he completed his sentence, Mr. Podobed was not released and was transferred to the Minsk pre-trial detention center No. 1. Subsequently, a criminal case was opened under Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code (“Promoting extremist activities”).

Mr. Padobed is a cameraman who worked with independent media. Previously, the journalist had been detained several times while covering political protests in Belarus, including after 2020.

On the evening of February 9, 2023, the police in Viciebsk arrested the journalist Viachaslau Lazarau following a search of his home, during which cell phones and a video camera were confiscated. 

On the same day, Mr. Lazarau's wife's registered residence was also searched. Mr. Lazarau was taken to the Investigative Committee and for almost a day his relatives did not receive any information about him. On February 11, 2023, his relatives learned that the journalist had been kept in the detention center in Viciebsk. Later it became known that Mr. Lazarau was charged under Part 1 of Article 364-1 of the Criminal Code (“Promoting extremist activities”).

Mr. Lazarau is a freelance journalist. He was previously arrested in 2020 while covering protests.

The overly broad and vague definition of “extremist activity” in Belarusian legislation allows the authorities to manipulate the wording to unlawfully restrict the right to information, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. Since 2021, the publications of independent media have been arbitrarily recognized as “extremist materials” and the media themselves have been declared “extremist formations”. One of the most egregious forms of harassment is the criminal prosecution of journalists for “belonging to an extremist organization or promoting extremist activities”.

We, the undersigned organizations, consider the actions taken against Mr. Pavel Padabed and Mr. Viachaslau Lazarau as a continuation of the targeted policy of the authorities to limit the dissemination of uncensored information in the country and a continuation of the attack on freedom of speech. In the wake of the 2020 presidential elections, dozens of NGO and media websites in Belarus have been blocked, a number of print media have been closed, and journalists and employees of the Belarusian media sector have been imprisoned.

Under these circumstances, we believe that the criminal prosecution of Mr. Padabed and Mr. Lazarau is politically motivated and aimed at stopping or changing the nature of his legitimate public activities in the sphere of non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information. Based on the above and guided by paragraphs 2.1 and 3.1 of the Guidelines on the Definition of Political Prisoners adopted at the III Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, human rights defenders, recognize Mr. Padabed and Mr. Lazarau as political prisoners and demand:

  • immediate release of Mr. Padabed and Mr. Lazarau and termination of their criminal prosecution;

  • refraining from using criminal prosecution as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression, or other rights and freedoms;

  • immediately release of all political prisoners, as well as other individuals detained in connection with their exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly in the post-election period, and termination of political repression in the country.

Belarusian Association of Journalists

Belarusian Helsinki Committee


Human Rights Center Viasna

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Legal Initiative