Belarus jails blogger Aliaksandr Ignatsiuk for 6 years on defamation, extortion charges

CPJ (19.04.2024) —Belarusian authorities must immediately release journalist Aliaksandr Ignatsiuk, who was sentenced to six years imprisonment, and ensure that no members of the press are jailed for their work.

On April 5, a court in the southern city of Stolin convicted Ignatsiuk of extortion, organizing or participating in gross violations of public order, and defaming the president, according to media reports, the banned human rights group Viasna, and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile. The court sentenced Ignatsiuk to six years in jail and a fine of 8,000 Belarusian rubles (US$2,450), those reports said.

“The six-year prison sentence for blogger Aliaksandr Ignatsiuk is yet another demonstration of the ruthlessness of President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s regime towards dissenting voices,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should immediately release Ignatsiuk, drop all charges against him, and ensure that no journalists are jailed for their work.”

Ignatsiuk, who has been detained since July 2023, is a freelance journalist who ran Pro Stolin, a website where he covered local news, as well as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram accounts, where he has a combined following of 16,800 subscribers. The authorities labeled the website as “extremist” in February 2024.

A BAJ representative who spoke to CPJ anonymously, citing fear of reprisal, believes Ignatsiuk “was punished for his blogging activities,” adding that “He [Ignatsiuk] openly criticized local authorities, defended farmers’ rights, and criticized pro-government farmers.”

In 2021, authorities searched Ignatsiuk’s home in connection to coverage of the prosecution of another journalist.

In the early 2000s, Ignatsiuk was the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper Vecherniy Stolin, the BAJ representative told CPJ. “After a trial and pressure from the Ministry of Information, the newspaper ceased to exist,” the representative said.

CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee for comment on Ignatsiuk’s case but did not receive any response.

CPJ is investigating a separate incident in which authorities detained Dzianis Nosau, a reporter with local newspaper Vecherniy Bobruisk, on April 8 in the eastern city of Bobruisk to determine whether it was connected to the journalist’s work. A Belarusian court ordered Nosau to be detained for 15 days on charges of distributing extremist content.

Belarus was the world’s third worst jailer of journalists, with at least 28 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census. Ignatsiuk was not included due to a lack of publicly available information on his detention at the time.