Statement by the Society of Journalists (Warsaw) on the case of journalists, including Andrzej Poczobut, currently imprisoned in Belarus

We demand the immediate release of Andrzej Poczobut, sentenced to 8 years in a hard labour camp on 8th February 2022 by a court in Grodno for „actions which harm the state” and „hate speech”. Instead of  waiting for his appeal against this sentence our colleague, a Belarussian journalist and activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus should simply be freed as should the over 30 other journalists, both women and men, currently in his country’s prisons. All should  walk free. The only reason that they are being held is that they have been carrying out their journalistic duties conscientiously.

Scarcely a month goes by in Belarus without  a journalist being arrested or sentenced by a Belarussian court for some absurd „crime”. What is really happening is that the authorities want to pacify our colleagues and take revenge on them for their stance in the wake of the fraudulent presidential election in 2020.

The Council of Europe’s platform to promote the protection of journalism and the safety of journalists has since the beginning of this year begun to monitor incidents of repression against journalists: and the Platform’s next annual report with a list of victims of the authorities in 2022 will soon be published. The most comprehensive list of political prisoners, including journalists, can be found on the website of the Viasna organisation . This website also contains instructions as to how to write and send letters to prisoners. Thanks to the Belarusian Union of Journalists (BAJ) we know where our journalistic colleagues are being held. We know the adresses of the various jails:  .

Here are a few of these prisoners. At the end of September last year Ksenia Lutskina was sentenced to 8 years in prison on charges of  „preparing to overthrow the authorities. She formerly worked at Belteleradio, the state run broadcaster and later worked with Svjatlana Tsikhanowska. On January 2nd Dzmitryi Luksha, another former Belteleradio employee and later a freelancer working with Kazakh 24 TV, was given a four year prison sentence for organisating protests. He is being held in Mohylew, in the  number 4 prison on Krupskaya street no 99A. Larysa Shchyrakova, a former freelancer with Belsat TV,  Poland’s Belarusian language broadcaster was arrested in her home town of Gomel on January 6th and is being held in detention centre no 3 on Kniaznia street in the city. Two weeks later Pavel Podobed, a cameraman in Mińsk was detained and had his apartment searched. He is being held in the in number 1 detention centre on Volodarska street in the city. On February 9th Vyacheslau Lazarau, another cameraman was arrested after a search at his home in Vitebsk.

January 2023 saw the release of a handful of political prisoners. We believe that more will be released with time. But before that happens we must signal that we know about the prisoners and that we remember their plight. This is why we must write them letters and postcards. In Polish, English or Belarussian – whichever language we can manage.

We must not forget about them. The Belarussian authorities must not be allowed to think that we have forgotten about our colleagues. Even if our letters do not reach them they will be noted by their prison authorities.

Let’s let their jailers know that someone continues to care about their victims and that their actions and words are being recorded for posterity.

The Society of Journalists

Warsaw, 15 February 2023

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