Veran Matić – Freedom for Andrey Gnyot

23. June 2024.
Veran Matić, executive director of the Association of Independent Electronic Media, visited Belarusian journalist and political activist Andrey Gnyot under house arrest, to whom the High Court in Belgrade delivered a verdict on his extradition to the authorities of Belarus. "Freedom for Andrey Gnyot" is an appeal to change this decision and protect this journalist from political persecution, torture and a long prison sentence if he is extradited to Belarus.
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Andrej Gnjot. Foto: Veran Matić

The author: Veran Matić, Member of the Permanent Working Group for the Safety of Journalists, Executive Director of the Association of Independent Electronic Media and Chairman of the Commission for Investigating Murders of Journalists

Andrey Gnyot spent seven months in the Central Prison, while the decision was made on the request of Belarus to extradite him to this country. 

The High Court in Belgrade made a decision to extradite the journalist and political activist to one of the most repressive systems in Europe and the world, when it comes to journalistic and political freedoms, a country where the death penalty is still practised (5-7 such sentences are carried out on annual basis). 

Andrey is now under house arrest with an electronic ankle bracelet. I visited him in the apartment he rented, while lawyers are preparing an appeal against the extradition decision. For one hour during the day, he can leave the apartment, take a walk and make the necessary purchases for life. Although he looks good, the prison has left its mark and he needs health support, which is not provided systemically. 

By the number of imprisoned journalists, Belarus is the third country with over thirty journalists arrested and sentenced to long prison terms. It is a country where political opponents disappear. 

In his own country, Andrey Gnyot faces political persecution, disguised as a false accusation of tax evasion. 

If Serbia extradites him, Andrey faces continued political persecution in Belarus, staged criminal proceedings, detention in inhumane and humiliating conditions, a potential sentence of over 20 years in prison, and it is not excluded that he faces a more severe sentence (such as death penalty) due to hidden charges that are being disguised under the extradition request.

Extradition authorities of the Republic of Serbia are obliged by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Serbian Constitution and laws to assess risks of political persecution and irreparable harm in case of Andrey Gnyot’s forcible removal to Belarus.

Why the Belarusian regime is persecuting Andrey: 

Andrey Gnyot is journalist, director/cinematographer and political activist, who took an important part in protests in Belarus in 2020 after fake elections. He is  co-founder and a head of civil association of famous Belarusian athletes SOS BY (Free Union of Athletes of Belarus). More than hundred members of this association were arrested, tortured, arbitrary detained and subjected to criminal trial.

This organisation (SOS BY) was the author of an open letter of athletes and sports representatives demanding to stop violence in the country and hold new fair elections, which had 2,000 signatures. In addition, the Free Association of Athletes sent an appeal to the International Olympic Committee, in which it noted that the brutal actions of the authorities against Belarusian athletes violate the articles of the Olympic Charter. Andrey Gnyot worked together with the lawyer Aliaksandr Danilevich on the evidence base and collection of signatures. And the International Olympic Committee accepted all the facts and demands stated in the letter, stopped funding the National Olympic Committee of Belarus and forced President Lukashenko to resign as president of the NOC. Lawyer Danilevich was disbarred for his work and imprisoned for 10 years. With the help of the sports community, the World Hockey Championship in Belarus was cancelled. This was a strong blow as sport, especially hockey, is Lukashenko’s favorite “toy” and propaganda tool.

In addition, using his professional journalistic education and extensive media experience, as well as his remaining professional contacts, Andrey Gnyot worked to collect and disseminate information about the protests in the media, free of charge, as a volunteer. Since August 2020, he has been a member of a professional journalistic video sharing group. The group was created by Kirill Sukhotsky, head of the channel. Andrei sent a lot of video materials that were used on the air of the TV channel “Current Time” (Prague, Czech Republic), about which there is a letter from Kirill Sukhotsky. Andrei also sent information to independent Belarusian Internet media, most of which were destroyed by the Belarusian regime and recognized as extremist organizations. And the Instagram page Free Association of Athletes – SOS.BY became a media resource, with the number of followers reaching 20,000 people.

The charges brought against Andrey Gnyot, who also appeared on the Interpol warrant, are were obviously inspired by journalistic work and political activism. 

Due to all of the above, the journalistic community in Serbia must use its activities to influence the prevention of the extradition of colleague Gnyot to the Belarusian regime. As well as civil society organizations. Solidarity is also important in terms of ensuring conditions for a normal life and adequate legal protection. 

The Court of Appeal should review all the evidence gathered by the legal team, as the High Court did not. And in relation to that evidence and the information about the terrible situation for the journalist in Belarus, to make a decision to cancel the extradition decision. 

I also expect the representatives of the international community to help the Serbian authorities to evade committing an unforgivable mistake, with serious consequences for Andrey Gnyot. Journalists must be protected from political persecution and that is why it is important that we all fight together to free Andrey Gnyot.