Belarus: Journalist Raman Pratasevich sentenced to eight years in prison
On 3 May, Raman Pratasevich, former editor of the Telegram opposition news channel Nexta, was given an eight year prison sentence by a Belarusian court in Minsk. He was arrested back in 2021. The International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) join their affiliate, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), in condemning this blatant attack on press freedom and in calling for him to be released immediately.
Following a trial that lasted nearly three months, Raman Pratasevich was found guilty and convicted on alleged charges that included “organising mass riots”, “incitement to hatred”, “founding an extremist group”, “conspiracy to seize power”, “publicly slandering President Alexander Lukashenko” and “appeals to commit terrorist acts”. The court specified that he was accused of over 1,500 crimes aimed at harming national security.
Two other Belarussian journalists in exile, Stephan Putila and Yan Rudzik, were given jail sentences, in absentia, of, respectively, 20 years and 19 years.
In addition to the prison sentences, the Belarusian journalists could also be forced to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages for their alleged responsibility in the mass demonstrations that swept across the country in the summer of 2020.
Pratasevich was the editor of Nexta, a Telegram messaging channel that was widely used by participants in mass protests against the contested 2020 election that kept the authoritarian President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, in power for a sixth term in office. Pratasevich was arrested back in 2021 by the Belarusian authorities. The authorities forced a civilian plane – with Pratasevich on board – flying between Greece and Lithuania to perform an emergency landing in Minsk, telling the crew that there was a bomb threat.
The verdict has not entered into force and can be appealed and protested on appeal.
The IFJ and EFJ said: “The arrest of Raman Pratasevich on World Press Freedom Day shows once again how the Belarusian government completely annihilates press freedom in the country. We call for the immediate release of all journalists imprisoned for simply doing their job and ask the government to immediately stop the repression and intimidation of all journalists in the country.”