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Andrei Tolchyn accused of harming Belarus’ national security

16.10.2023 Source: Беларуская асацыяцыя журналістаў

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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