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  • Journalist Andrei Tolchyn added to Interior Ministry’s list of “extremists,” while Supreme Court rejects appeal against his conviction

    On May 24, the Supreme Court reject­ed Andrei Tolchyn’s appeal. Supreme Court Judge Ali­ak­sei Rybak­ou upheld the sen­tence of the court of first instance – two and a half years in prison.

    Andrei Tolchyn. Cour­tesy pho­to

    Infor­ma­tion about this appeared on the web­site of the Inte­ri­or Min­istry on May 31. The list of “per­sons prone to extrem­ist activ­i­ty” indi­cates that the free­lance video­g­ra­ph­er is already “serv­ing his sen­tence.”

    On March 21, Judge Dzmit­ry Kazlou of the Homel Region­al Court found Andrei Tolchyn guilty of pro­mot­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ty and defam­ing the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Belarus. The charges of dis­cred­it­ing the Repub­lic of Belarus have been dropped.

    Law enforcers arrest­ed Tolchyn on Sep­tem­ber 23, 2023. The day fol­low­ing the arrest, author­i­ties searched his apart­ment, where he resided with his spouse. Inves­ti­ga­tors seized com­put­er equip­ment and oth­er dig­i­tal media. Tolchyn was trans­ferred to Homel pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter a few days lat­er, where he remains.

    The Belaru­sian human rights com­mu­ni­ty rec­og­nized Andrei Tolchyn as a polit­i­cal pris­on­er.

    Who is Andrei Tolchyn?

    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. He found­ed the Gomel­skie Vedo­mosti news­pa­per.

    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.

    In 2021, the jour­nal­ist was also detained near the Homel pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter, where he filmed rel­a­tives of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers Mikalai Statke­vich and Ihar Losik. At the tri­al, Andrei Tolchyn stat­ed that he wore a badge indi­cat­ing that he was a free­lance jour­nal­ist and had the right to col­lect infor­ma­tion under the Con­sti­tu­tion. He did not plead guilty at the time. How­ev­er, the court ruled that the jour­nal­ist had vio­lat­ed the reg­u­la­tions and imposed an admin­is­tra­tive fine. Fur­ther­more, the court ordered the con­fis­ca­tion of all of Andrei Tolchyn’s equip­ment, includ­ing a tri­pod, a cam­era, mem­o­ry cards, and a micro­phone.

    Andrei Tolchyn turns 65 on July 13. Dur­ing his impris­on­ment, the elder­ly man’s chron­ic ill­ness­es have wors­ened, he suf­fers from hyper­ten­sion, and it is dif­fi­cult for him to move due to pain in his legs.

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