On 12 January 2021, our former colleague Andrei Aliaksandrau and his wife Irina Zlobina were unlawfully detained and imprisoned. After spending over 620 days behind bars for their human rights work they were unjustly sentenced in October 2022. Today, two years on from their unlawful detention and imprisonment, ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship renew our call for the baseless charges against two human rights defenders to be dropped. Andrei, Irina, and all political prisoners currently in jail for calling for democracy in Belarus must be released unconditionally and without further delay.
Andrei and Irina were detained on 12 January 2021 for allegedly paying fines and covering detention costs for people apprehended during a democracy protest in Minsk. They were initially charged with the ‘organisation and preparation of actions, grossly violating public order, or active participation in them’, as well as ‘funding and other material support for such activities’. Subsequently, Andrei was also charged with ‘high treason’. On 6 October 2022, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced Andrei to 14 years in prison and Irina to 9 years.
ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship have argued that bogus charges against Andrei and Irina are retaliatory and politically motivated. This case represents an escalation in Belarus’ sweeping crackdown on press freedom and human rights activism. On 12 January 2022, to mark the grim one-year anniversary of their detention, ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship launched a solidarity campaign for Andrei and Irina calling for their release. That campaign continues today.
‘Andrei has dedicated his life to human rights and journalistic work, which, in particular, included bringing to international attention Belarusians’ plight for freedom. He loves Belarus and always believed its place is among free democratic countries. Now he is set to spend 14 years in a penal colony as a reprisal for his vital work. This severe sentence demonstrates that Lukashenko will not stop at anything in his pursuit to completely dismantle civil society and crush freedom of expression. As an international community, we have a duty to stand in solidarity with Belarusians and strongly demand their fundamental rights to be respected,’ said Joanna Szymanska, Senior Programme Officer, ARTICLE 19.
‘Andrei and Irina were detained two years ago for challenging a repressive government in Belarus. The ludicrous sentences handed down to them late last year demonstrate both the fragility of Lukashenka’s regime and the power of Andrei and Irina as human rights defenders. That they are still in prison is a damning indictment of the regime that has targeted democracy and free expression and we will continue to demand their release. Only when Belarus’s prisons are empty of all political prisoners can we hope for a better future for human rights in Belarus,’ said Ruth Anderson, CEO, Index on Censorship.
Judicial harassment against journalists and activists has become one of the most notorious weapons in a vast arsenal deployed by the Lukashenko regime to further stifle dissent and strengthen his autocratic ruling. Belarus’ courts are entirely without independence and under the control of Lukashenko. They hold sham trials to justify his unrelenting attack on any remaining opposition. According to the human rights centre Viasna, as of 12 January 2023, there are 1440 political prisoners in Belarus.
We call for the end of the judicial harassment against Andrei, Irina, and all other courageous Belarusians who are viciously persecuted for their human rights work in the country and for the release of all political prisoners. The Belarusian regime must cease bringing trumped-up charges against its critics – a blatant violation of human rights law and international conventions to which Belarus is a party. ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship will continue to extend unwavering support to the Belarusian community and its fight for freedom and democracy.