Belarus: two journalists sentenced to two years in prison

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Minsk | Two Belarusian journalists were sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday for participating by their coverage of the 2020 protest movement in Belarus, their employer Belsat reported.

Daria Tchoultsova and Katerina Bakhvalova, correspondents of this opposition channel based in Poland, were arrested by riot police on November 15 in an apartment from where they had just filmed the violent dispersion of a demonstration in tribute to an opposition activist, Roman Bodarenko, killed a few days earlier.

“I showed these events on the air, and I was thrown in prison for that, by fabricating accusations”, Katerina Bakhvalova said Wednesday evening, in her last speech before the court withdrew to deliberate.

The prosecution accused the two reporters of having incited the population to demonstrate illegally by their reporting, which “seriously undermined public order”.

The two women, 23 and 27, had pleaded not guilty, considering themselves victims of the repression that hit the vast protest movement that erupted after the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, a poll punctuated by accusations of fraud massive.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has faced unprecedented protests for months. The authorities cracked down on the movement, largely silencing it with arrests, also marked by police violence.

All opposition figures are imprisoned or in exile and thousands of demonstrators have been arrested.

Many media have also suffered repression.

The Belarusian government carried out new searches on Tuesday that targeted around 20 journalists, association activists and union officials, as part of an investigation into the 2020 protest movement.

Supported by Moscow, Mr. Lukashenko refuses for his part to leave power and has promised only vague constitutional reforms in an attempt to calm the protest.