Belarus Convicts Activist Protasevich to 8 Years Jail
Belarusian authorities have sentenced blogger Roman Protasevich to eight years in a penal colony nearly two years after its jets hijacked a passenger plane flying over the country and forced it to land in Minsk just to capture him.
Along with Protasevich, a well-known Belarusian activist, founder, and former editor of Nexta, a media site that exposed Lukashenko’s attack on civil society during the 2020 presidential election, the Minsk court handed down sentences against two other Nexta founders.
Stepan Putilo was sentenced to 20 years in jail, while Yan Rudik was given 19 years behind bars, both in absentia as they managed to stay away from Belarus, the state-owned Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA) reported on Wednesday.
Protasevich, Putilo, and Rudik were found guilty of reportedly organizing mass riots on Belarusian territory, grossly violating public order, making public calls to seize state power, committing an act of terrorism, and other actions aimed at harming Belarus' national security, slandering and publicly insulting the President, and other crimes.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit organization safeguarding freedom of information, noticed that the verdict against journalists coincided with World Press Freedom Day and called on the Belarus authorities to immediately release Protasevich along with “33 other media workers held by Alexander Lukashenko’s government.”
“The government of President Lukashenko chose 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, for this demonstration of contempt for journalists’ rights,” the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, Jeanne Cavelier, said.
Recalling that the regime in Minsk charged Protasevich with more than 1,500 crimes, RSF warned that in addition to prison, Protasevich could be ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages related to the mass protests in Belarus in the summer of 2020, for which the court held him responsible.
The organization further warned that following his detention on May 23, 2021, Protasevich was exposed to tremendous psychological pressure and was even made to confess and apologize during a broadcast by the Belarusian official TV channel ONT.
RSF also warned that Protasevich had been under house detention in an unknown location and under unknown conditions since his arrest.
It added that as a result of the government’s enormous crackdown on independent media, most Belarusian journalists fled the nation, which dropped from 153rd to low 157th out of 180 in RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index.