November 21, 2017

Ukrainian reporter held in Belarus on spying charge

The KGB press conference on Pavlo Sharoyko

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is very concerned about Pavlo Sharoyko, a Ukrainian radio journalist who has been held since 25 October in Belarus. The Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB) announced yesterday that he is accused of spying for Ukrainian military intelligence.

Sharoyko was held incommunicado for nearly a month without his detention becoming public knowledge. His employer, the Ukrainian public radio station, Ukrainske Radio, finally reported four days ago that he had been arrested and his detention was confirmed by the KGB yesterday.

Sharoyko, who is facing up to 15 years on the spying charge, has not been allowed any visits and, so far, his only lawyer is the one appointed by the Belarusian authorities.

He has been based since 2011 in Minsk, where he initially worked for the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN before joining Ukrainske Radio. A former member of the Ukrainian armed forces, he specializes in covering military stories and he contributed to several official publications and press services before retiring from the army.

“The circumstances of Pavlo Sharoyko’s detention are very disturbing,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “He must be able to have access to an independent lawyer of his choice and he must be given a fair trial. We ask the Belarusian authorities to guarantee that he is treated well and that this case is handled with as much transparency as possible. And his detention is no longer essential since the investigative stage is over.”

According to the KBG, Sharoyko used his journalistic activities as a cover to create a spy ring in Belarus. Both he and a detained Belarusian citizen accused of “high treason” are said to have confessed. The KGB also claims that it found some of his intelligence reports in a search of his home.

Questionable spying charges have been brought against several journalists in Belarus in recent years. The well-known Belarusian journalist Alyaksandr Alesin was held incommunicado for two weeks in 2014 on a charge of high treason but the case was eventually dismissed. A Ukrainian journalist, Roman Sushchenko, has been held in Russia on spying charges since September 2016.

Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.