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Belarus journalists sentenced to imprisonment over protest coverage

JOURNALISTS who covered protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko have been convicted of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison.

Katsiaryna Bakhvalava and Daria Chultsova, of Polish-funded Belsat TV, were arrested in November when police raided a Minsk apartment from where they were doing a livestream report.

Addressing the court before the verdict on Thursday, Ms Bakhvalava vowed to continue working for “building a Belarus that won’t have political repressions.

“I’m not pleading. I’m demanding acquittal for me and my colleagues,” she said, referring to other jailed journalists.

In a statement, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said: “We consider the sentence politically motivated. Its goal is to scare all journalists to prevent them from fulfilling their professional duty to cover socially important events in the country.

“That effectively amounts to a professional ban.”

The International Federation of Journalists denounced the ruling as “shameful and totally unfounded.”

The government says foreign-funded broadcasters like Belsat are part of efforts by states hostile to Belarus to discredit its last election and overturn it.

More than 400 journalists have been detained in Belarus in the last six months, of whom at least 10 have faced criminal charges and remain in custody.

International union federation IndustriALL, which covers the manufacturing, energy and mining sectors, has condemned police raids on the offices of independent unions and the homes of their officials.

On Tuesday, the offices of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers Union (REP) were raided.

Police also searched the home of the union’s lawyer, confiscating his equipment, and that of the Minsk Moto Plant branch chairman, who was detained and sentenced to 25 days’ imprisonment. 

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan condemned an “outrageous attack on independent trade union activists.”

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