WASHINGTON — Andrey Kuznechyk, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Belarus Service, was sentenced on June 8 to six years in a maximum-security prison on charges of creating or participating in an extremist organization.
Kuznechyk, a 43-year-old father of two, was first 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 him on December 23, 2021, the day that the Interior Ministry added RFE/RL’s Belarus Service to its registry of extremist organizations. The charges against Kuznechyk had remained unknown until late May 2022, however, due to a court-imposed gag order.
According to family members, the Mahilou regional court only took a few hours to hear the case on June 8 before the verdict and six-year sentence were handed down.
Said RFE/RL President and CEO Jamie Fly, “Andrey has been sentenced on ludicrous charges in a closed-door trial, which was over in a few hours. It is telling that the charges against him only surfaced in late May, more than six months after he was first arrested. We demand Andrey’s immediate release.”
Kuznechyk is one of three RFE/RL journalists currently imprisoned in Belarus. On May 10, a Minsk court denied an appeal by Aleh Hruzdzilovich and upheld his sentence of 18 months in a maximum-security penal colony. Belarus's Supreme Court heard an appeal by Ihar Losik on May 31, rejecting it the following day and upholding his 15-year sentence.
RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, with a monthly average of over 33 million visits to its websites and 59 million page views, was first established in 1954 and is a leading provider of news in one of Europe’s most restrictive societies, defying the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.
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.