TVP journalist sentenced to five years in jail in Belarus

On Wednesday, the Homiel regional court pronounced the verdict for Polish public broadcaster TVP journalist Iryna Slaunikava’s case. She has been kept behind bars since October 30 last year.

Judge Mikalai Dolya, who had previously sentenced the journalist in the ‘Tsikhanouski case’, sentenced Iryna to five years in jail. At the same time, the state prosecutor asked for a year less.

The journalist was found guilty under two articles of the Criminal Code: Article 342 “Organisation and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or active participation in them” and Article 361.1 “Establishment or participation in an extremist formation”.

The trial is being conducted behind closed doors since, according to Slaunikava’s lawyer, the body of evidence was so flimsy that Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime could not sentence her publicly without making a complete embarrassment of itself.

On Tuesday, Belarusian journalists held a rally near the headquarters of the European Commission in Warsaw, during which they sent a petition with a request to impose sanctions against those involved in the persecution of journalists in Belarus.

“Hundreds of journalists have been forced to emigrate, and many of those who have decided to remain in the country, have been put behind bars,” said the organisers of the demonstration. “Among them are former employees and contributors working for the [Polish] public broadcaster TVP SA and its subsidiary, the only independent television channel broadcasting in Belarusian, Belsat.”

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The management board of the Polish Television condemns the acts of restricting the freedom of speech and limiting basic civil rights in Belarus, said Mateusz Matyszkowicz, board member of TVP, commenting on the judgement.

Mr Matyszkowicz recalled that this was another prison sentence for the associates of Polish Television in Belarus. Katsyaryna Andreyeva, was put behind bars for eight years for "treason". In this context, the TVP board member pointed out that Belsat is recognized as “an extremist organisation” by the Belarusian authorities.

“This shows how much Alyaksandr Lukashenka is afraid of independent media, afraid of Polish Television. He sentences journalists only for doing their job,” Mr Matyszkowicz added.

In reaction to Iryna Slaunikava’s case, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the sentence “an absolute scandal, a violation of all civilization norms, human rights and journalistic standards.”

“This unacceptable verdict will meet with Poland's immediate and decisive reaction at the international level,” the PM said.

On Wednesday evening, Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz announced that the charge d'affaires of the Belarusian embassy had been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On Thursday morning, he is to receive a firm protest and demand that Iryna Slaunikava and other illegally imprisoned individuals associated with Poland be released.

“We hope that our colleagues will not serve their sentences in full. Our appeal to all authorities: European and Polish, to the whole free world is as follows - act for the release of journalists. Let us not forget about other political prisoners in Belarus,” Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, the head of Belsat TV, said on Wednesday during the demonstration.