October 20, 2023

20.10.2023 – Concerns over the Detention of Andrei Tolchyn in Belarus

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is deeply concerned about the recent arrest of Andrei Tolchyn (Андрей Толчин), 63, a former freelance journalist and activist, in Homel (Гомель), Belarus. We condemn any actions that compromise media freedom and democratic values.

Tolchyn has been charged with violating Article 361 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, specifically Part 1, which pertains to actions that could harm the national security of Belarus. This article criminalizes acts such as publicly advocating for the overthrow of the government through violent means, acts of terrorism or sabotage, and actions aimed at undermining national security or disseminating content containing such calls. Those found guilty of such offenses could face imprisonment for up to six years. When these actions involve the internet or mass media, penalties may range from four to twelve years behind bars.

Tolchyn’s arrest took place on 27 September 2023 when law enforcement authorities detained him and subsequently transferred him to a pre-trial detention center. His home was also searched, with computer equipment and digital media confiscated during the operation, with the pretext of an “extremism” investigation.

After the 2010 presidential elections, Tolchyn collaborated with independent media outlets as a videographer. He faced fines and administrative detention for his work and was arrested in 2020, along with journalist Larysa Shchyrakova (Ларыса Фёдараўна Шчыракова), while documenting demonstrations, under allegations of involvement in mass riots.

SEEMO strongly condemns this arrest and the charges against Andrei Tolchyn. We urge the Belarusian authorities to respect media freedom, release him immediately, and ensure that democratic values and human rights are upheld in the country. The protection of journalists and democratic activists is vital for the well-being of society and the region as a whole.

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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