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Instead of being released, Belarusian journalist gets another 10-day jail term - RFE/RL

07.12.2021, 11:43

Instead of being released from a detention center in Minsk after finishing a 10-day jail term, a freelance journalist who has worked for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, Andrey Kuznechyk, has been handed another 10-day jail term on a controversial hooliganism charge, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.

Relatives of Kuznechyk told RFE/RL that the journalist was supposed to be released on December 6 but remained in custody. Several hours later, they were told that he had been found guilty of hooliganism again and remanded in the detention center for another 10 days.

The relatives said that Kuznechyk maintained his innocence. According to the relatives, they were not allowed to bring parcels containing food, clothes, and letters to Kuznechyk, who has been held in Minsk’s notorious Akrestsina detention center, where many inmates have said they were tortured.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said the extension of Kuznechyk’s sentence "on absurdly fabricated charges" should be considered a crime in itself.

"Andrey’s state-sponsored kidnapping continues, all in furtherance of the Lukashenka regime’s efforts to block independent information from reaching the Belarusian people. Andrey should be allowed to return to his family immediately," Fly said in a statement on December 6, referring to Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Kuznechyk went for a bike ride on November 25. He returned accompanied by four men dressed in civilian clothes, according to his wife, Alesya Rak.

The men, who did not show any identification, then searched their apartment, Rak said, only avoiding the rooms of their two young children.

Kuznechyk was then led away by the group, who did not give a reason for his detention.

Over the weekend, another Belarusian journalist, Paval Belavus, was not released from jail, although his 15-day jail term ended on December 4.

Belavus was found guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned rally and sentenced on November 19. He was also held in the Akrestsina detention center.

On December 6, Belavus's colleagues said that he was handed a 13-day jail term two days earlier on hooliganism charges.

Tensions have been running high in Belarus since Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared winner of a presidential election in August 2020 that opponents and the West say was rigged.

Many Western nations have since refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus, leaving him more reliant than ever on Russia, which analysts say is using his weakened position to strengthen its hold over its smaller neighbor.

Tens of thousands of people have been detained, and human rights activists say more than 800 people are now in jail as political prisoners.

Independent media and opposition social media channels have been targeted as well.

"The regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues its effort to crush all independent media in Belarus," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on the day of Kuznechyk's capture.

"Andrey was kidnapped by agents of the regime for nothing more than being a journalist. The regime also targeted one of our social media accounts, attempting to cut off more channels of information for the Belarusian people. Andrey should be released immediately and allowed to return to his wife and young children. He has committed no crime."

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

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