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  • Andrei Tolchyn accused of harming Belarus’ national security

    The reason for detaining former freelance journalist and democratic activist Andrei Tolchyn in Homel has been revealed. He has been accused of violating Part 1 of Article 361 of the Criminal Code, which relates to encouraging actions that harm the national security of Belarus.

    The crim­i­nal arti­cle out­lines cer­tain actions as crim­i­nal offens­es, includ­ing pub­licly call­ing for the over­throw of the gov­ern­ment by force or vio­lent means, com­mit­ting acts of ter­ror­ism or sab­o­tage, and car­ry­ing out actions that aim to harm nation­al secu­ri­ty or shar­ing con­tent that con­tain such calls. The pun­ish­ment for these acts can result in a max­i­mum sen­tence of six years impris­on­ment. If it is proven that these actions were com­mit­ted using the inter­net or mass media, pun­ish­ment may be more severe, result­ing in impris­on­ment for four to twelve years.

    In late Sep­tem­ber, law enforce­ment author­i­ties arrest­ed Andrei Tolchyn, 63, and placed him in a pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter. The fol­low­ing day, inves­ti­ga­tors searched Andrei’s home, where he lived with his wife. Com­put­er equip­ment and oth­er dig­i­tal media were seized dur­ing the search. Tolchyn’s wife was told that the search was part of the extrem­ism inves­ti­ga­tion. Tolchyn was then moved to pre-tri­al deten­tion.

    Andrei Tolchyn became a promi­nent fig­ure in the demo­c­ra­t­ic com­mu­ni­ty of Homel dur­ing the 1990s when Belarus was gain­ing inde­pen­dence. He worked as a ser­vice engi­neer at the radio fac­to­ry Pra­men and took part in the inde­pen­dent trade union move­ment, cam­paign­ing for the safe­guard­ing of work­ers’ rights. Andrei was elect­ed as a deputy of the Homel City Coun­cil. This coun­cil, one of two in Belarus, pub­licly opposed the com­mu­nist coup in Moscow and cel­e­brat­ed the Repub­lic of Belarus’s procla­ma­tion of inde­pen­dence in August 1991.

    Andrei worked in the Pub­lic and Media Rela­tions Com­mit­tee dur­ing his tenure in the Coun­cil. He was a mem­ber of the Unit­ed Civ­il Par­ty, which has been dis­solved by the author­i­ties. He used to lead the party’s city orga­ni­za­tion for a long time and over­saw the oper­a­tions of char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tions that pro­mote democ­ra­cy. He was inter­mit­tent­ly unem­ployed.

    After the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, Tolchyn col­lab­o­rat­ed with inde­pen­dent media out­lets as a video­g­ra­ph­er and was fined sev­er­al times and even admin­is­tra­tive­ly detained. In 2020, Tolchyn got arrest­ed along with jour­nal­ist Larysa Shchyrako­va while doc­u­ment­ing demon­stra­tions, under the alle­ga­tion of involve­ment in mass riots.

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