Belarus supreme court upholds journalists’ 12-year jail terms

After Belarus’s supreme court today (31 July) rejected the appeals of two imprisoned women journalists and confirmed their 12-year jail sentences, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its appeal to the international community to press the authorities to immediately free them and all of the 33 other journalists detained in Belarus.


“It would have been rather naive to expect impartiality from a Belarusian court. Maryna Zolatava and Liudmila Chekina are aware that they are political prisoners who have been deprived of their freedom for daring to cover the real situation in their country, often contradicting what the government was saying. We reiterate our appeal to the international community to take action to obtain the release of all of the 35 journalists imprisoned in Belarus.

Jeanne Cavelier
Head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

Respectively editor and manager of TUT.BY, the most widely read Belarusian media outlet until its closure in 2021, Maryna Zolatava and Liudmila Chekina had already been placed on the country’s list of terrorists when they received their 12-year sentences from a lower court on 17 March.

Zolatava and Chekina have been held ever since their arrest on 18 May 2021. At the end of their trial in March, Zolatava was convicted of “inciting social hatred” and “disseminating content calling for actions undermining national security” while Chekina was convicted of “tax evasion,” “organising incitement of social hatred” and “disseminating content calling for actions undermining national security.” It was their conviction on these charges, as well as their sentences, that the supreme court has now upheld.

The supreme court also upheld another unfair trial’s outcome on July 31, confirming journalist Valeriya Kastsyugova’s 10-year prison sentence.

Resisting despite everything

Like so many other Belarusian journalists who have been persecuted by President Lukashenko’s dictatorship, Zolatava and Chekina have continued to display an unflagging combativeness in their letters to their families, who they have not seen for the past two years.

In one of her – sadly lucid – letters, Zolatava deplored the endless violence and crackdowns. “Has the state resolved even one problem by eliminating TUT.BY or any other independent media outlet? (…) If you can't read a story on TUT.BY, that doesn't mean it didn't happen.”

One of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists, Belarus continues to fall in the World Press Freedom Index and is currently ranked 157th out of 180 countries.

167/ 180
Score : 26.8
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