Belarus: two leaders of an independent media sentenced to 12 years in prison

A Minsk court on Friday sentenced two leaders of the independent news site Tut

Belarus: two leaders of an independent media sentenced to 12 years in prison

A Minsk court on Friday sentenced two leaders of the independent news site to twelve years in prison, in the midst of a wave of repression orchestrated in Belarus by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.

According to the specialized NGO Viasna, the site's editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova, 45, and its general manager Lyoudmila Tchekina, 54, were sentenced after a closed trial that lasted more than two months.

"The verdict targeting our colleagues is a cruel revenge for having transmitted with (their media) the truth to Belarusians", reacted the Belarusian Association of Journalists, specifying that 36 media employees were currently imprisoned in the country.

The leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, for her part denounced a "new attempt to kill honest journalism".

"This is revenge for two beautiful women and two great professionals...I have absolutely no doubt that their values...will prevail and they will regain their freedom. And until the world can not hear them, we will be their voices," Tikhanovskaya said in a statement.

Marina Zolotova and Lioudmila Tchekina were notably accused of tax evasion and incitement to social hatred, charges previously described as "absurd" by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which rose up on Friday against a "condemnation iniquitous".

The two women appeared at the verdict in the glass cage reserved for the defendants, their hands handcuffed and smiling shyly, according to images published by state media Belta.

They were arrested in May 2021 and have since been behind bars. Two journalists and a lawyer from, who fled Belarus, are also being tried separately in absentia.

Friday's sentencing is emblematic of Mr. Lukashenko's ruthless crackdown on any criticism of his regime, since a vast protest movement that made him falter in 2020.

For weeks, the popular site has been covering the protest, which has gathered tens of thousands of people on the streets of Minsk and other cities to denounce the hotly contested re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, in power since three decades. had been labeled "extremist" by the authorities and blocked in Belarus in 2021. But several of its journalists who left Belarus have relaunched the site under a new name, Zerkalo ("mirror", in Russian).

"We are proud of you. Your integrity and your perseverance are an example for all of us," Zerkalo journalists said in a message posted on their site on Friday, ahead of the verdict.

Several opponents and leading civil society figures have been sentenced to heavy prison terms in recent months.

A few minutes before the verdict against the leaders of, two other women, Valeria Kostiugova and Tatiana Kouzina, were sentenced to ten years in prison by the same court in Minsk.

Arrested in June 2021, the first worked as a political scientist and the second was an expert in public administration issues. They were accused of "conspiracy to seize power", calls to harm "state security" and "incitement to hatred".

In early March, opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, following a trial she described as a judicial "farce".

On March 3, activist Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize and figure of the democracy movement in Belarus where he still is, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

According to the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, Belarus had 1,460 political prisoners as of March 17.

The West imposed heavy sanctions on Belarus for its crackdown on the 2020 protests, but Mr Lukashenko's regime still enjoys Moscow's unwavering support.

03/17/2023 15:39:44 -          Moscow (AFP) -          © 2023 AFP