Rt. Hon. Dominic Raab MP
First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs
Dear Foreign Secretary,
Earlier this week, one of Index on Censorship’s friends and former colleague, journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau, was detained in Minsk along with his partner, Irina Zlobina. We are extremely alarmed at the news of their detention. Both have been held incommunicado in a Minsk jail since their detention on Tuesday 12 January.
Aliaksandrau is a long-standing champion of media freedom, having sought to uphold this fundamental right as a journalist, and through his work at the London-based freedom of expression organisations, Index on Censorship and Article 19. We are concerned to learn that he is being detained as a suspect in a criminal public order case instituted by the Minsk Department of the Investigative Committee.
On 14 January, police raided the offices of the independent BelaPAN news agency claiming they were looking for evidence related to the criminal case against Aliaksandrau. Aliaksandrau is no longer a BelaPAN staff member, having left his post as deputy director in 2018. Nonetheless, several pieces of equipment were confiscated from BelaPAN’s offices, including personal computers. BelaPAN is the oldest non-governmental independent Belarusian news agency. These combined actions are a direct breach of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As the UK continues to proudly champion media freedom through its media freedom campaign, Index on Censorship calls on the British government to immediately intervene with the Government of Belarus to secure the release of Andrei Aliaksandrau and Irina Zlobina. We are concerned that the decision to detain them may be part of a fresh effort to repress the key defenders of the right to media freedom and freedom of expression aimed at quashing the months of protests that have besieged President Lukashenka’s regime.
According to the Belarus Association of Journalists, journalists were detained 479 times in Belarus in 2020. We cannot allow this pattern of repression to continue in 2021.
We urge you to do everything in your power to see to the release of Andrei Aliaksandrau and Irina Zlobina, and to ensure that no one else is imprisoned for exercising and defending their fundamental rights.
We thank you in advance for taking our concerns into consideration and look forward to your response.
Index on Censorship
[This letter has been updated with new facts on dates of detention]