The IPI global network welcomed the release of several staff members of Press Club Belarus after more than eight months behind bars.

Yuliya Slutskaya, the founder of Press Club Belarus; the organization’s director, Syarhei Alsheuski; programming director Ala Sharko; and cameraman Pyotr Slutski were released from pre-trial detention on August 19. Press Club Belarus said on Facebook that the team members were released as “an act of pardon”.

On December 21 last year Slutskaya was detained at the Minsk airport upon her arrival back to Belarus. The Press Club’s office was raided and several staff members arrested. Authorities have accused the defendants of “large-scale tax evasion” and “complicity in a crime”.

“IPI welcomes the release of Press Club Belarus staff members, including founder Yuliya Slutskaya”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “However, we underscore that the charges against them are unfounded and part of a wide-scale effort to intimidate Belarusian journalists and civil society. We call on Belarus to immediately release all other detained journalists and media staff, including other two defendants in the Press Club Belarus case, Kseniya Lutskina and Dzyanis Sakalouski.”

Founded in 2011 by editors of independent media in Belarus, Press Club Belarus belongs to the International Association of Press Clubs. The organization describes its aim as monitoring the work of Belarusian media outlets, promoting media literacy, training journalists and supporting their professional development.

Press Club Belarus came under scrutiny from the Belarusian government after the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarusian officials. As retaliation the Belarusian authorities announced they will limit the activities of foundations supported by the EU. Press Club Belarus was financed by EU countries and launched many of its educational programs in cooperation with embassies of several EU member states.

IPI and other press freedom organisation have repeatedly condemned the brutal crackdown on independent media and civil society in Belarus. Despite Western sanctions, the situation has continued to escalate.