In a shocking development, Belarusian journalist and former Index on Censorship staff member Andrei Aliaksandrau has been charged with treason. Detained on 12 January with his partner Irina Zlobina, Andrei was originally accused of organising actions that grossly violate public order. He was due for release later this month. The new charge marks an escalation in Belarus’s draconian crackdown on press freedom and human rights activism. Andrei now faces up to 15 years in prison.
For Index on Censorship, all victims of human rights abuse are cause for concern when their right to speak out is denied, their right to freedom of expression at risk and their liberty unjustly curtailed. The excessive and groundless charges against Andrei bring the injustice faced by thousands of Belarusian journalists painfully home. For Andrei was also a key part of Index’s team in London from 2012 to 2014, bringing his expertise, his insights and his great sense of irony to the publication’s coverage of Belarus and the region. He also embraced British culture, loving pubs and beer and Liverpool FC. He is part of the Index family.
Andrei returned to Belarus after some years working in the UK out of commitment to his country and faith that a democratic future is possible. It was an act of courage, but he has never lost his sense of humour or the habit of downplaying the danger he faces.
After the sham elections in 2020, a former colleague at Index (and Everton fan) messaged him to see if he was all right. He replied: “This got to be the year Liverpool finally won the Premier League! I knew it was going to be a hell of a year.”
In the months before his detention he was working as a media manager and trainer with DW Akademie. He was previously deputy director of the Belarusian Private News Agency (Belapan). Following Andrei’s arrest, officers from the Department for Combating Economic Crimes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs searched Belapan’s office and confiscated computer hard drives along with other material.
The treatment of Andrei is a violation of his fundamental rights under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Belarus in 1973.
Andrei’s former colleagues are devastated by the news of the charges against him and will fight for his release as an act of solidarity. He was part of the UK’s human rights community – working for Index’s sister organisation Article 19 as well during his time in London. It is often the individual stories of repression and victimisation that move people to action. His unjust imprisonment must be a focus for activists, politicians and the government in the fight for long overdue democracy in Belarus.