OPC Condemns Arrest of Press Club Staff in Belarus

The Overseas Press Club of America denounces the detention of five staff members of Press Club Belarus on charges of tax evasion.

Julia Slutskaya, founder and president of the club, and four other staff members as well as an independent journalist who recently participated in an event hosted by the club, were arrested on Dec. 22 and the club’s offices were searched and closed. The homes of those arrested were also searched.

Press Club Belarus and the OPC are members of the International Association of Press Clubs (IAPC). Jaroslaw Wlodarczyk, secretary of the IAPC, said the government of Alexander Lukashenko yesterday extended the group’s detention by 10 days to Jan. 7.

“Lawyers are taking all possible steps to ensure their immediate release. However, taking into account the politically motivated previous trials in Belarus, the chances of their release are slim, especially in the absence of pressure,” Wlodarczyk said.

More than a dozen other Belarusian press club staff were evacuated to Lithuania and Ukraine and are scheduled to go to Poland in January and operate from Warsaw, he added.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Jan. 5 provided an update on this case, adding reports that on the day of the arrests law enforcement officers confiscated computers and mobile phones during their search. News reports indicated that on Dec. 24 officers at the Department of Financial Investigations interrogated the six detainees, and on Dec. 31 Slutskaya was charged with tax evasion in connection to her work as Press Club Belarus’ founder, and four of those arrested were charged with complicity in that crime.