The IPI global network condemns the six-year prison sentence handed down to Radio Svoboda freelance correspondent Andrey Kuznechik on fabricated charges in Belarus and calls for his immediate release.

During a closed-door trial on June 8, 2022 that lasted only a few hours, the court in the eastern city of Mogilev sentenced the journalist to six years in a medium-security penal colony for creating an “extremist organization”, according to his family.

Kuznechik, who had been collaborating with Radio Svoboda, the Belarusian branch of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe, was initially detained in November 2021, after which his house was searched by plainclothes police officers and his equipment was confiscated. Kuznechik was initially sentenced to 10 days of detention for hooliganism, followed by an additional 10-day sentence on separate charges

However, the journalist was never released and his relatives were kept in the dark about the further charges he would face until May 2022. The charges of creating an “extremist organization” were directly tied to his work for Radio Svoboda. The husband and father of two has always maintained his innocence. 

“This conviction once again displays the blatant disregard for freedom of expression in Belarus and is a glaring illustration of the vicious crackdown on journalists by the government of Aleksander Lukashenko,” said IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen. “Andrey Kuznechik’s only crime was reporting the truth and he is being persecuted for doing so. The Belarusian authorities must release him and all other arbitrarily detained journalists and media workers who remain behind bars.”

“The international community has a responsibility to protect the fundamental rights of media workers within Belarus. The IPI global network stands with Radio Free Europe in calling for an end to the systemic repression of journalists.”

In a statement released on the day of the ruling, Radio Free Europe President and CEO Jamie Fly said: “Andrey has been sentenced on ludicrous charges in a closed-door trial, which was over in a few hours.”

In July 2021, Radio Svoboda’s headquarters in Belarus were searched by the police. In December 2021, a month after the arrest of Kuznechik, the media outlet was declared an “extremist organization” by Belarussian authorities as part of a massive crackdown more than a year after the fraudulent presidential election victory of authoritarian ruler Alexander Lukashenko. 

As a result, Kuznechik and many other journalists who covered the 2020 civil unrest and elections found themselves under investigation by the authorities. The names of numerous other independent journalists can be found in the list of more than 1,000 political prisoners within Belarus.