Last week, a court in Homieĺ, Belarus, found journalist Katsiaryna Andreyeva guilty of “high treason.” She is already serving a two-year sentence on bogus charges, and the new verdict increased her total sentence to eight years and three months.
In February 2021, a district court in Minsk sentenced Katsiaryna and her colleague Daria Chultsova to two years in prison for “organizing activities violating public order.” The charges came after the two women live-streamed from a November 2020 mass protest that was violently dispersed by law enforcement. Katsiaryna and Daria worked for Belsat, a Poland-based broadcaster, long targeted by Belarusian authorities.
In April 2022, five months before Katsiaryna’s sentence was to be completed, authorities indicted her with the new charges of “high treason.”
Belarusian authorities conducted the investigation into her case in an atmosphere of secrecy, with court hearings taking place behind closed doors.
On July 13, authorities gave Katsiaryna’s husband Igor Ilyash just two hours’ notice that he could attend the reading of the court’s verdict. According to him, Katsiaryna was found guilty of “passing the state secrets to foreign organizations and states,” yet it is still unclear on what grounds. But there is no doubt, he says, that the verdict was a response to her work as an investigative journalist with Belsat.
For the past two years, Belarusian authorities have been methodically stamping out all traces of independent journalism. Dozens of media professionals have faced arbitrary detention, police brutality, administrative fines, arrests, raids, and ill-treatment in custody in reprisal for their work. Twenty-nine media workers are currently behind bars. Authorities banned 27 independent media outlets as extremist.
Yet even against this background, the severity of Katsiaryna Andreyeva’s sentence, shortly before she was to be released from jail, is shocking in its cruelty and arbitrariness.