Two journalists jailed for two years in Belarus for filming protests

By Matthias Williams KYIV (Reuters) - A Belarusian court sentenced two Belarusian journalists from Poland-based TV news channel Belsat to two years in prison on Thursday, accusing them of orchestrating protests against President Alexander Lukashenko that they had filmed. Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, were detained in November in an apartment which they had been using as a vantage point to film demonstrations over the death of a protester killed several days earlier.

Reuters February 19, 2021 00:10:38 IST
Two journalists jailed for two years in Belarus for filming protests

Two journalists jailed for two years in Belarus for filming protests

By Matthias Williams

KYIV (Reuters) - A Belarusian court sentenced two Belarusian journalists from Poland-based TV news channel Belsat to two years in prison on Thursday, accusing them of orchestrating protests against President Alexander Lukashenko that they had filmed.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, were detained in November in an apartment which they had been using as a vantage point to film demonstrations over the death of a protester killed several days earlier.

Both women pleaded not guilty. They appeared in a cage at the hearing on Thursday, hugging and making "V" for victory signs. Their lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.

"Just look at Darya and Katsiaryna – strong, smiling, and saying goodbyes to their loved ones through bars. Lukashenka can't break us," exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

Neighbouring Lithuania, where Tsikhanouskaya is based, urged Minsk to end a "spiral of repression". Poland said in a statement it would have "very serious consequences". Belsat was set up in Poland by Belarusian and Polish journalists to cover Belarus.

The European Union's foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano condemned the "shameful crackdown on media".

More than 33,000 people have been detained in a violent crackdown on protests against Lukashenko's rule following a contested election last August that his opponents say was rigged to extend his rule. He has been in office since 1994.

The crackdown prompted Western countries to impose new sanctions on Minsk. Lukashenko has refused to step down, buttressed by support from Moscow, which sees Belarus as a buffer state against the European Union and NATO.

"Every time I went to work, I risked my health and life," Andreyeva had said in a statement earlier. "I managed to hide from rubber bullets, explosions of stun grenades, blows from truncheons. My colleagues were much less fortunate."

"I have everything: youth, a job that I love, fame and, most importantly, a clear conscience."

The journalists were filming protests after the death of 31-year-old Roman Bondarenko, who died in hospital in November after what protesters say was a severe beating by security forces. The interior ministry denied responsibility.

Lukashenko has mixed promises of reform with a renewed crackdown this week that saw police raiding the homes of journalists and rights activists and one of Lukashenko's main electoral opponents put on trial for corruption.

A separate trial begins on Friday of a journalist from the local outlet TUT.BY who contradicted the government's assertion that Bondarenko had been drunk at the time of his death.

Asked about Thursday's verdict, Belarusian information minister Igor Lutsky said the court would not have made its ruling unless it was justified.

(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw, Robin Emmott in Brussels and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by John Stonestreet, Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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