Belarus: Release investigative journalist Siarhei Satsuk reporting about the coronavirus crisis

ARTICLE 19 condemns the detention of investigative journalist Siarhei Satsuk, chief editor of the Yezhednevnik news website,  on bribery charges. Siarhei Satsuk is known for his reports on corruption in the health care system of Belarus. Most recently, on 23 March 2020, he published a story about how Belarusian authorities have covered up information related to the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

On 25 March, Satsuk was detained by the Financial Investigation Department of the State Control Committee for allegedly accepting a $5,000 bribe to investigate the corruption in the Ministry of Health last year. According to media reports, the office of the Yezhednevnik website was searched and some documents were seized.

On 31 March, the authorities announced that they had opened a criminal investigation under article 430 of the Belarusian criminal code [on accepting bribes] against Satsuk. If convicted, the journalist could face up to ten years in prison.

“A free and independent media is especially important during a public health crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak. Journalists play a central role in providing information to people most likely to be affected,” said Sarah Clarke, head of Europe and Central Asia at ARTICLE 19.

“The Belarusian authorities are using the current crisis to further undermine freedom of expression in the country. We call on the authorities to immediately release and drop charges against Siarhei Satsuk whose investigative work is crucial in advocating for transparency and accountability in the delivery of necessary public health measures in Belarus.”

Governments undermine their own ability to respond to coronavirus when they attack journalists. Arrests or the filing of criminal charges against journalists reporting on the virus, as has been already reported in several countries, are egregious examples of government overreach. ARTICLE 19 has published a briefing how states, the media and social media companies can help to combat coronavirus by committing to transparency, tackling misinformation and promoting authoritative health advice. It can be found here.