Two journalists have been sentenced to two years in prison for live filming protests against President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus.
The Belarusian court passed the verdict on Thursday just months after the two; Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, were apprehended in an apartment filming the protests.
According to Reuters, the two from Poland-based TV news channel Belsat which specializes in news from Belarus were captured while filming demonstrations over 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 two pleaded not guilty to the charges before them despite the material evidence including a video camera, a microphone, mobile phones, flash drives and press jackets presented by the prosecution.
Prior to the sentencing, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists had urged the authorities to drop the “absurd” charges against Andreyeva and Chultsova and demanded their unconditional release.
Nearly 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.
Lukashenko who has been in office since 1994 has refused to step down bolstered up by support from Moscow, which sees Belarus as a buffer state against the European Union and NATO. 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.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland has instructed Polish diplomats in Minsk to convey to the Belarusian government his demur against suppression of freedom of speech and civil rights in Belarus.