European Federation of Journalists

Belarus: Solidarity with Larysa Shchyrakova, imprisoned on fabricated charges

Credit: BAJ

Members of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Steering Committee sent messages of solidarity to their colleague and friend Larysa Shchyrakova, sentenced on 31 August to 3,5 years in jail in Belarus. 

“Imprisonment, torture, police brutality… those are the methods of a frightened dictator who is afraid of these brave women and men journalists who do their job and fight for the truth. To all the journalists in Belarus – we will not forsake you and we will fight for your right to work and live in freedom,” said EFJ President Maja Sever in reaction to the imprisonment of Shchyrakova, and to the 32 other journalists currently behind bars in Belarus.

On 31 August 2023, journalist, local historian and cultural activist Larysa Shchyrakova was sentenced by the Homel Regional Court to 3,5 years in a general-security penal colony. She was also fined 1,365 euros. The charges against her are fabricated and the ruling arbitrary: Shchyrakova was accused of discrediting Belarus, and of promoting extremist activities, under the form of allegedly disseminating disinformation online. 

This is an obvious retaliation against her for simply doing her job. Started on 27 August 2023, Shchyrakova’s trial was held behind closed doors. According to the prosecutor’s office, Shchyrakova had “collected, created, processed, stored, and transmitted information for further use in order to ensure the extremist activities of the Viasna information resource and the Belsat extremist formation.” 

The 50-year old journalist has been behind bars since 6 December 2022, when the authorities ordered a home search. The same day, her son Sviataslau was taken to a children’s home until his father could see him. 

Pablo Aiquel, member of the French national union of journalists SNJ-CGT and EFJ Steering Committee, met Larysa in Minsk in October 2017 during an event organised by the EFJ and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) on the working conditions of freelance journalists.

Her courage and her testimony were poignant; she was afraid of going to jail. We met again in Paris in 2018 at a time when there was very little media coverage of the situation in Belarus. Journalists had the courage to do journalism, to tell the story of their country. Since the crisis in 2020, there has been a lot more media coverage, but we already knew a lot because Larysa and many others had reported on the situation,” said Pablo Aiquel. “My friend and colleague is now in prison for doing her job. It’s unbearable. We must do everything we can to expose it.”

Larysa Shchyrakova announced in 2022 that she was quitting her job as a journalist because of the harassment to which she was subjected: her administrative responsibility had been engaged more than 40 times since the start of her career in 2007. She was frequently charged with being “unaccredited in the Republic of Belarus”.

According to BAJ, 33 journalists are imprisoned in Belarus, one of the most repressive regimes in terms of freedom of speech since the reelection of Alexander Lukashenko in 2020. BAJ has  also been classified as “extremist” in March this year.