January 17, 2024

17.01.2024 – Belarusian Photojournalist Faces Trial and Possible 6-Year Prison Term

Belarusian photojournalist Alyaksandr Zyankou (Аляксандр Зянкоў) faced trial on Friday 12 January 2024, charged with “participation in an extremist group” (Criminal law, article 361-1) at City Court in Minsk, Belarus. He is detained since 22 June 2023, when he was arrested in his house in Borisov (Barysaw / Барысаў), The trial unfolded amid heightened repression of free speech and dissent by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko’s (Аляксандр Рыгоравіч Лукашэнка) regime. Zyankou, an award-winning freelance photographer, had been documenting repressions in Belarus. His arrest was part of a broader assault on journalists and dissent since Lukashenko’s contested 2020 election.

If convicted he could face two to six years in prison. Last year alone, 46 journalists were arrested, and 32 remain behind bars, according to the Belarusian Journalist Association. Human rights violations escalated after the 2020 presidential elections, prompting mass detentions of journalists and political activists. President Lukashenko’s refusal to invite Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE- https://www.osce.org/), observers to the forthcoming parliamentary elections on 25 February 2024, although the country has been an OSCE member since 1992, raises concerns about the democratic process. The move is part of Lukashenko’s broader efforts to consolidate power, including a law granting him lifelong immunity from legal actions. You can see the link to BAJ summarized statistics of repressions against journalists and the media in 2023 here: https://baj.media/en/analytics/figures-year-repression-media-and-journalists-belarus-2023

Alexander Zyankov, an independent photographer, commenced his career as a freelance photographer back in 1998, navigating the realm of entrepreneurship, seeking opportunities, and dutifully fulfilling his tax obligations. He established collaborations with various local independent publications, showcasing his versatility. Zyankov’s journey expanded into videography, where he delved into crafting documentaries that earned recognition at festivals. Outside his professional pursuits, Zyankov harbored a passion for wildlife photography. Recent years saw him extensively traveling and channeling his creativity into capturing captivating landscapes, natural wonders, birds, and architectural marvels. In December 2022, Zyankov curated a personal photo exhibition, further exemplifying his multifaceted artistic contributions.

Alexander Zyankov was arrested also in the past, like after reporting from a demonstration in 2011 when he was sentenced to 5 days in prison or 2019 when he was arrested for several hours. In July 2020, he was among 47 journalists and photographers detained in Minsk and released after checking their documents. After this, in September 2020, police officers came to the photographer to warn him about the inadmissibility of breaking the law. Zyankou’s health deteriorated in custody, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ- https://baj.media/en).

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) strongly condemns the ongoing persecution of journalists in Belarus, exemplified by the trial of photojournalist Alyaksandr Zyankou. This relentless assault on media freedom and the systematic targeting of journalists, including Zyankou’s prolonged detention and deteriorating health, is deeply troubling. SEEMO calls for the immediate release of Zyankou and all journalists unjustly detained in Belarus, urging the international community to address these egregious violations of press freedom and human rights. SEEMO stands in solidarity with the journalists facing repression and emphasizes the importance of upholding democratic values and safeguarding the fundamental right to free speech and expression.

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is a regional non-governmental, non profit network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in Southeast, South, East and Central Europe. SEEMO members are in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova (with the territory of Transdnestria), Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Türkiye / Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Austria, Italy, Vatican and San Marino have a special status in SEEMO. SEEMO has over 3000 individual members, and additional media as corporate members.

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