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Minsk: Several defendants in so called Press Club Belarus case at liberty

20.08.2021 Source: Belsat.eu

According to our own information, Yuliya Slutskaya, the founder of Press Club Belarus, its directors Syarhei Alsheuski and Ala Sharko, cameraman Pyotr Slutski have been released from pre-trial detention centre Nr 1 in Minsk.

All of them were detained at the end of 2020 as part of the so called Press Club case. They have spent nearly eight months behind bars. To date, there has been no information about the release of two other defendants in the case, Kseniya Lutskina and Dzyanis Sakalouski.

Their four colleagues were freed ‘as part of an act of pardon’, Press Club Belarus team said on Facebook.

On December 21, the Press Club Belarus founder Yuliya Slutskaya was met at the airport upon her arrival in Minsk and taken to the Department of Financial Investigations. Yet at the same time, the police searched the flats of the organisation’s directors Ala Sharko, Syarhei Alsheuski, Syarhei Yakupau. They also raided the office of the independent organisation, and Slutskaya’s home in Minsk. On the same day, Slutskaya, Sharko, Alsheuski, Yakupau, Press Club cameraman Pyotr Slutski, Kseniya Lutskina (she is related to a media project co-run by Press Club’s Academy) were placed in detention. Later, Yakupau, who is not a citizen of Belarus, was released and deported to Russia.

On December 21, the Press Club Belarus founder Yuliya Slutskaya was met at the airport upon her arrival in Minsk and taken to the Department of Financial Investigations. Yet at the same time, the police searched the flats of the organisation’s directors Ala Sharko, Syarhei Alsheuski, Syarhei Yakupau. They also raided the office of the independent organisation, and Slutskaya’s home in Minsk. On the same day, Slutskaya, Sharko, Alsheuski, Yakupau, Press Club cameraman Pyotr Slutski, Kseniya Lutskina (she is related to a media project co-run by Press Club’s Academy) were placed in detention. Later, Yakupau, who is not a citizen of Belarus, was released and deported to Russia.

They are accused under Art. 243-2 of the Criminal Code (large-scale tax evasion) and Art. 16-6 (complicity in a crime) of the Criminal Code, allegedly in connection with the ‘public television project’ by former employees of state-run TV channels. Notably, the arrestees’ relatives transferred 109,769 Belarusian rubles and 58 kopecks, which is as much as, according to investigators, they ‘had failed’ to pay to the state budget.

Belarusian human rights defenders state the criminal prosecution is politically motivated and aimed at ‘terminating or affecting their public activities carried out for legitimate purposes as part of civil society organisations in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and dissemination of information.’ In mid January, eleven human rights watchdogs recognised Slutskaya, Sharko, Alsheuski, Slutski, Lutskina as political prisoners and called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release them.

Shortly before their being arrested, Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makey announced limiting the activities of a number of foundations in Belarus and reviewing their humanitarian, educational and cultural programs in the wake of the third package of sanctions imposed on Belarusian officials by the European Union. It is known that Press Club Belarus launched a number of its educational programs in cooperation with the embassies of several EU member states.

Press Club, Belarusian media workers’ meeting point and a venue for lectures and discussions on the current social and political situation in Belarus, was financed, inter alia, by EU countries.

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