A Belarusian court has sentenced journalist Iryna Slaunikava to a term of five years in a labor camp after she was charged with “organizing an extremist grouping.”
Her trial began on June 23, and she was sentenced at the fifth sitting of the court in the city of Homel, Belarus. Slaunikava had been working for Polish TV Belsat, which is funded and broadcast by Poland; at the moment of her arrest, Slaunikava was also a Polish public TVP journalist.
She has been in custody since October of last year and is classified as a prisoner of conscience. The charges against her have been deemed to be political, and the trial was held behind closed doors with no right for her family to attend it.
The head of TV Belsat, Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy, demonstrated together with other Belsat journalists against the sentence in Warsaw, calling for her colleague’s immediate release.
“We hope that our colleagues will not have to serve their full sentences. We appeal to all Polish and European authorities to help us free journalists and other political prisoners in Belarus,” said Romaszewska-Guzy.
Slaunikova and her husband were stopped in October at Minsk airport. They were first charged with more minor offenses such as the distribution of extremist literature and minor acts of vandalism. Slaunikava’s husband was released after 45 days in jail, but she was presented with further charges, this time of a criminal nature.
According to human rights monitors, 29 journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus. The Belarusian human rights group Wiasna believes that there are at least 1,253 political prisoners currently incarcerated in the country.