In the morning of 8 July 2021, law enforcers searched the editorial office of the newspaperNasha Niva and the homes of its journalists and editors. Almost at the same time, the Ministry of Information restricted access to Nasha Niva‘s website nn.by based on the report of the General Prosecutor’s Office which alleged “distribution of information which is prohibited by the Mass Media Act”. The site can be accessed neither from the territory of Belarus nor from abroad.
After the searches, a number of journalists and workers of Nasha Niva were interrogated, and non-disclosure statements were received from them. Searches and interrogations were carried out under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization or preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or participation in them) and Article 293 of the Criminal Code (mass riots).
Later it became known that the following employees of Nasha Niva were detained under part 1 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (organization or preparation of actions that grossly violate public order or participation in them):
- Yahor Martsinovich – editor-in-chief;
- Andrei Skurko – head of the advertising and marketing department;
- Volha Rakovich – chief accountant;
- Andrei Dynko – editor-in-chief of the popular science and children’s magazines that are published by Nasha Niva
The organizations that issued this statement believe that these actions against the staff ofNasha Niva newspaper are a continuation of the purposeful policy of the authorities to restrict the distribution of uncensored information in the country and a continuation of the assault on freedom of speech. After the 2020 presidential election, dozens of socio-political and media websites were blocked in Belarus, a number of print media outlets were forced to stop publishing, and journalists and employees of the media sector in Belarus were detained.
Given these circumstances, we conclude that the real grounds for the criminal prosecution of Yahor Martsinovich, Andrei Skurko, Volha Rakovich, and Andrei Dynko are political motivations aimed at stopping or changing the nature of their public joint activities for legitimate purposes within the editorial board of Nasha Niva in connection with the non-violent exercise of freedom of expression and information distribution.
On this basis, guided by paragraphs 2.1 and 3.1(a) of the Guidelines on the Definition of a Political Prisoner, adopted at the II Belarusian Human Rights Forum, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations, declare Yahor Martsinovich, Andrei Skurko, Volha Rakovich, and Andrei Dynko political prisoners and demand:
- The immediate release of Yahor Martsinovich, Andrei Skurko, Volha Rakovich, and Andrei Dynko from custody;
- Abandoning the use of criminal prosecution methods as an instrument of pressure on freedom of expression;
- The immediate termination of repression, as well as the release of all political prisoners.
Belarusian Association of Journalists;
Belarusian PEN Center;
Human Rights Center “Viasna”;
Lawtrend Center for Legal Transformation;
Belarusian Documentation Center;
Belarusian Helsinki Committee;
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House.