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2 Belarusian reporters sent to jail for reporting demonstrations

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2 Belarusian reporters sent to jail for reporting demonstrations

 

On Thursday, two journalists in Belarus were accused of breaching public order and sentenced to two years in prison after covering a demonstration against Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian president.

Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, 27, who is also Andreyeva’s last name, and Daria Chultsova, 23, both from the Polish-funded Belsat TV station, were arrested in November after police broke down the door of an apartment in Minsk, where a live stream of a protest was broadcast in the Belarusian capital.

Bakhvalava promised to continue working to “build a Belarus that will not have political repression” before addressing the court before the verdict.

“I do not plead. “For me and my colleagues, I demand acquittal,” she said, referring to other imprisoned journalists.

The two were accused of “organising actions that violate public order rudely,” allegations they refuted.

The U.S. Embassy criticised the journalists’ “political convictions and egregious prison sentences” and urged Belarusian officials “to stop persecuting and prosecuting journalists and media outlets for covering the news.”

“The United States reiterates the commitment of the Belarusian authorities to protect and uphold fundamental freedoms, in particular assembly, speech and press freedoms,” it said in a statement.

In the last six months, more than 400 journalists have been arrested in Belarus, and at least 10 have faced criminal charges and remain in prison.

The purpose of the sentence is to scare all journalists to prevent them from fulfilling their professional duty to cover socially relevant events in the country,” the Belarusian Association of Journalists said. “We consider it politically motivated. “That amounts effectively to a professional ban.”

The ruling was criticised by the International Federation of Journalists as “shameful and totally unfounded.”

Federation President Younes Mjahed said in a statement, “Today’s verdict is a clear assault on press freedom and we all stand together against this mockery of justice.”

Since official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide, Belarus has been rattled by protests. The opposition and some poll workers said the election had been manipulated.

Authorities in the Eastern European nation reacted to the protests with a sweeping crackdown, the largest of which drew up to 200,000 people. Human rights groups say that since the demonstrations started, more than 30,000 individuals have been arrested, with thousands brutally assaulted.

By imposing sanctions against Belarusian officials, the United States and the European Union responded to the election and the crackdown.

Following the verdicts, Polish President Andrzej Duda asked the country’s diplomats, according to his senior aide, Krzysztof Szczerski, to express strong criticism to the Belarusian authorities of the crackdown on freedom of expression and civil rights.

He noted that Poland is urging its EU partners to respond to the repression in Belarus of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The head of Belsat TV in Poland, in a strongly worded statement, said the sentencing of journalists was “proof of the tightening of political terror in Belarus,” and harshly criticised the EU for a muted response.

Agnieszka Romaszewska-Guzy said in an opinion piece posted on the Belsat website, “Our employees must operate as if they are in a war and suffer measurable losses.” “With their personal freedom, they pay for the promotion of free expression.”

She promised to “take the European Union out of its slumber and make sure that politicians take real steps rather than just offering words of outrage at Belarus’ developments.”

“Romaszewska-Guzy said, “I am rather critical of the acts taken so far, as being quite a pretence and hypocrisy.

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