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  • CPJ urges Serbia to release Andrei Hniot and provide him with medical care

    The Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists issued a state­ment call­ing on the Ser­bian author­i­ties to imme­di­ate­ly release Belaru­sian Andrei Hniot and not to extra­dite him to Belarus.

    Камітэт абароны журналістаў заклікаў вызваліць беларуса Андрэя Гнёта

    Andrei Hniot. Pho­to: DW

    Ser­bian author­i­ties detained Hniot upon his arrival in the coun­try on Octo­ber 30, 2023, based on a Sep­tem­ber 21 Inter­pol arrest war­rant issued by the Belaru­sian Inter­pol bureau. Hniot has remained in deten­tion in the cen­tral prison in the cap­i­tal, Bel­grade, ever since, where his health has dete­ri­o­rat­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly.

    The com­mit­tee’s state­ment not­ed that Andrei Hniot’s friend and for­mer jour­nal­ist Dzia­n­is Zyl told CPJ on 14 May that Andrei was not receiv­ing med­ical care behind bars.

    “Today, he wrote that he again filed an appli­ca­tion to be pro­vid­ed with migraine pills and was ignored,” Dzia­n­is Zyl said. “I see that he writes strange­ly.”

    CPJ also refers to Hniot’s May 11, 2024 let­ter. In it, the Belaru­sian report­ed that his left foot was par­tial­ly par­a­lyzed.

    The Belaru­sian author­i­ties accused Andrei Hniot of tax eva­sion. The direc­tor’s lawyer claims that the pros­e­cu­tion of the accused is being car­ried out for polit­i­cal, not eco­nom­ic, rea­sons, as Min­sk insists.

    “As a Euro­pean Union can­di­date state, Ser­bia should not suc­cumb to transna­tion­al repres­sions on behalf of author­i­tar­i­an regimes like that of Belaru­sian Pres­i­dent Alek­san­dr Lukashenko, a known ene­my of a free press,” said Gul­noza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Cen­tral Asia pro­gram coor­di­na­tor. “Ser­bia should deny Belarus’ request to extra­dite jour­nal­ist Andrey Gny­ot, imme­di­ate­ly release him, and pro­vide him with nec­es­sary med­ical aid. Belaru­sian author­i­ties should stop their attempts to weaponize Interpol’s want­ed per­son list to retal­i­ate against dis­sent­ing voic­es.”

    Andrei Hniot is a film­mak­er who has worked with sev­er­al inde­pen­dent news out­lets, includ­ing Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­ty. He is a co-founder of the inde­pen­dent asso­ci­a­tion of Belaru­sian ath­letes SOS BY, which influ­enced the can­cel­la­tion of the 2021 World Ice Hock­ey Cham­pi­onship in Belarus.

    Dur­ing an April 1 hear­ing, Hniot said that he was per­se­cut­ed as a jour­nal­ist who was able to gath­er around him a group of ath­letes and cre­ate con­tent for them, Dzia­n­is Zyl told CPJ.

    CPJ emailed Inter­pol, the Ser­bian Min­istry of Inte­ri­or, and the Belaru­sian Inves­tiga­tive Com­mit­tee for com­ment on Hniot’s case but did not receive any response.

    Ear­li­er, part­ner orga­ni­za­tions of the Media Free­dom Rapid Response (MFRS) project appealed to the author­i­ties in Bel­grade to release Andrei Hniot. The appeal was signed by the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists, as well as the Inter­na­tion­al Press Insti­tute, the Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists, the Euro­pean Cen­tre for Press and Media Free­dom, and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions.

    On Decem­ber 1, 2023, when CPJ con­duct­ed its most recent prison cen­sus. Ser­bia had no jour­nal­ists behind bars at the time, except for Hniot, who was not includ­ed in the cen­sus due to a lack of infor­ma­tion about his jour­nal­ism. Belarus was the world’s third-worst jail­er of jour­nal­ists at that time.

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