News, Statements

JMWU demands the immediate release of our colleague Vitaly Shkliarov arrested in Belarus and explanations from the Belarusian authorities

Free Vitaly Shkliarov!

On July 29, 2020 Vitaly Shkliarov, the columnist in Novaya gazeta (Russia) and many other outlets, political scientist, journalist, writer was arrested in Belarus. The charges against Shkliarov must be announced within 10 days starting from 1 August. Nevertheless it is already unofficially stated that he, who recently returned from the United States, where he was working at Harvard University, was arrested because of his close cooperation with one of the presidential campaign candidates, Sergey Tikhanovsky, who was also arrested under Article 342 of the Belarusian Criminal Code (Organization of group actions violating public order). Vitaly Shkliarov was arrested in connection with the same criminal case. 

Despite the fact that no real charges against Shkliarov were presented, Belarusian government media already made broadcasts accusing Vitaly in “commenting political situation in Belarus”. According to Belarus info agency BELTA, Shkliarov “by version of special service has been consulting administrators of groups in social media” and “has been controlling political activity of Sergey Tikhanovsky”. 

In the same time official propaganda uses arrest of Shkliarov who allegedly “introduced in campaign headquarters his agents” and “Russian militants from a private military company Wagner” in relation with arrests of mentioned PMC militants. The government TV station ONT reported on Saturday, August 1, that these activists “could be linked to Sergey Tikhanovsky”. The attempt to link these two facts is obvious. 

These government media also point out that Shklyarov is a “Russian spin doctor”, but that in reality he is not a Russian citizen and has no more links with Russia than with other countries where he has worked and lived. Vitaly Chkliarov was born in Gomel, Belarus, where his parents live. They are currently caring for his underage son, a US citizen, who is separated from his mother. 

All these events are taking place during a difficult political period in Belarus, where the work of professional journalists is associated with high risks and many difficulties. We could mention a statement by President Alexander Lukashenko, who publicly called on internal affairs officers to “expel” journalists from the country “calling people to the streets”. We have already expressed our solidarity with our colleagues working in Belarus and supported a statement by the Association of Belarusian Journalists and some of the media in that country calling for an end to the persecution of journalists. 

Journalists’ and Media Workers’ Union expresses its extreme concern about this alarming situation and stresses that the unofficial evidence of Vitaly Shkliarov’s “guilt” constitutes a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights as well as a violation of freedom of expression and interference in journalistic activities. In other words, a violation of all the international obligations that Belarus has undertaken. 

We call for the immediate release of our colleague Vitaly Shkliarov and a public explanation of the reasons for his criminal prosecution. We also demand an end to the pressure on journalists in Belarus and to allow our colleagues to work freely in the media covering events that are essential for the future of the country.