WASHINGTON – RFE/RL strongly condemns the March 3 sentencing of its former Belarus Service journalist Aleh Hruzdzilovich by a Minsk court to one and a half years in a maximum-security penal colony.
Said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly, “We strongly condemn this illegitimate persecution of an innocent journalist. His only ‘crime’ was reporting the truth to Belarusians who are now denied that truth by their government. We call for Aleh’s immediate release.”
An award-winning journalist, Hruzdzilovich was arrested on December 23, 2021, and was tried on March 2 for taking part in mass protests against the 2020 presidential election. Hruzdzilovich has consistently rejected the charges, stating he was working as an RFE/RL correspondent with Foreign Ministry accreditation at an August 2020 protest, and covered two other protests in October 2020 on assignment for his employer, the local newspaper Narodnaya Volya. The 63-year old previously served a 10-day sentence in July 2021 and a 15-day sentence in November 2020 for reporting on the protests, which followed the August 2020 presidential election that controversially returned longtime incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka to office for a sixth term. In January, RFE/RL’s Belarus Service published some of Hruzdzilovich’s letters from prison.
Hruzdzilovich is one of three former RFE/RL journalists imprisoned in Belarus. All three have been recognized by the Belarusian Human Rights Centre “Viasna” as political prisoners.
Andrey Kuznechyk, a former web editor for the Belarus Service, was arrested on November 25, 2021, while on a bike ride near his home in Minsk, and has been in detention ever since. After serving two consecutive 10-day administrative sentences for “hooliganism,” Belarusian authorities opened a criminal case on unspecified charges against Kuznechyk on December 23, 2021. Fly has termed Kuznechyk’s situation a “state-sponsored kidnapping.”
Ihar Losik, a consultant for RFE/RL and prominent blogger, was arrested on June 25, 2020, and tried on charges including “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and “preparation for participation in riots.” The five-month, closed-door proceeding resulted, on December 14, 2021, in Losik’s conviction and sentencing to 15 years in prison; his five co-defendants also received harsh sentences of between 14 and 18 years, on charges widely considered to have been fabricated by Belarusian authorities. Fly condemned the trial as an “outrageous travesty of justice.”
In December 2021 Belarus's Interior Ministry added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, Radio Svaboda, to its registry of extremist organizations in a continued clampdown on independent media and civil society. The move means that Belarusians who subscribe to Radio Svaboda online could face up to six years in prison. The Belarus Service’s website has been blocked within Belarus since August 21, 2020, while the accreditations of all locally based journalists working for foreign media, including RFE/RL, were annulled by the Belarusian authorities in October 2020.
RFE/RL relies on its networks of local reporters to provide accurate news and information to more than 37 million people every week in 27 languages and 23 countries where media freedom is restricted, or where a professional press has not fully developed. Its videos were viewed 7 billion times on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram/IGTV in FY2021. RFE/RL is an editorially independent media company funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media.