A freelance journalist who has worked for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service has been sentenced to 10 days in jail on hooliganism charges as authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his crackdown on independent media.
Andrey Kuznechyk’s relatives told RFE/RL on November 30 that they had learned the journalist had been handed a 10-day jail term four days before. According to the relatives, Kuznechyk refused to accept the guilty verdict and was currently being held in Minsk’s notorious Akrestsina detention center, where many inmates have said they were tortured.
Kuznechyk went out for a bike ride on November 25 before returning accompanied by four men in plainclothes, according to his wife, Alesya Rak.
The four men, who did not present 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 of four, who did not give any reason for his detention.
Tensions have been running high in Belarus since Lukashenka, in power since 1994, was declared the winner of a presidential election in August 2020 that opponents and the West say was rigged.
Many Western governments have since refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus, leaving the Belarusian strongman more reliant than ever on Russia, which analysts say is using his weakened position to strengthen its hold over its smaller neighbor.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
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 the day of Kuznechyk’s detention.
“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.”