Prisoner of Conscience: Volha Loika, Belarus
Volha Loika, a lead political editor of Tut.by, an independent news site in Belarus, was detained on 18 May 2021 along with several other journalists from the same publication. Her arrest was part of an operation against Tut.by which included raids of its offices, arrests of a dozen of its reporters and editors, and an investigation into suspected tax evasion and “posting prohibited information”. The publication’s website was temporarily blocked and in October its licence was suspended until the end of 2021.
The editor “was taken right from her desk in the corner of the office,” a Tut.by colleague, Kseniya Yelyashevich, told the Belarusian Association of Journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ. Loika, who has worked at Tut.by for more than a decade, was later charged with tax evasion. If convicted, she could face up to seven years in prison.
Unfortunately, Loika is not the only journalist arrested by the Belarussian authorities. Dozens of journalists had been detained by President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime since the mass protests in 2020, when thousands of people gathered on the streets of Minsk to demand the President’s resignation. Many observers describe Lukashenko as Europe’s last dictator.
Many protestors were severely beaten and still remain in custody. Reports about civilians who were arrested on bogus charges and tortured by the authorities shocked the world. According to CPJ’s 2021 prison census, at least 19 reporters remain behind bars in Belarus as of December 2021.
The internationally respected Belarusian human rights group Viasna, which is banned in Belarus but continues to operate, estimates that around 650 people are still in jail because of their political beliefs.
Many Belarusian and international organisations condemned the detention of Tut.by journalists and the crackdown on this media outlet, seeing it as an attempt to suppress independent media in the country.
Shortly after the raid, a group of Belarusian human rights organisation issued a joint statement in support of the detained reporters and called for their immediate release. They also urged the Belarusian government to “refrain from using criminal prosecution as a means of coercing freedom of expression” and to end the repression on political prisoners.
“The authorities’ continued detentions of Tut.by journalists and staff are clearly aimed at finishing off the outlet after it was decapitated with mass arrests last week,” stated Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator, in a statement. “But the more the government tries to threaten journalists into silence, the more such injustices will be exposed.”
Disclaimer: As of December 10, 2021 Volha Loika is still in custody, awaiting a trial.
Prisoners of Conscience from East and Southeast Europe
We feature select few prisoners of conscience out of the many in East and Southeast Europe. One political prisoner is one too many.
Find out who the other political prisoners are #PrisonersofConscience #FreeThemAll and in the special Focus on our website.