Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich gets eight years in prison
The Belarusian authorities celebrated World Press Freedom Day by imposing an eight-year jail sentence on the dissident journalist they arrested in 2021 after forcing his commercial flight to land in Minsk. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for his release and that of the 33 other media workers held by Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
The editor of the Telegram opposition news channel Nexta at the time of his arrest, Raman Pratasevich was convicted on charges that included “organising mass riots” and “appeals to commit terrorist acts” at the end of a nearly three-month trial yesterday (3 May) in Minsk, He had been charged with more than 1,500 crimes.
As well as an eight-year prison sentence, Pratasevich could also be ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages linked to the mass protests in Belarus in the summer of 2020, for which the court held him responsible. Two former Nexta colleagues living in exile were sentenced in absentia to 19 and 20 years in prison, respectively.
“President Lukashenko’s government chose 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, for this demonstration of contempt for journalists’ rights.” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The harsh sentence imposed on Raman Pratasevich completes the chilling sequence of events that began when the Belarusian authorities diverted his flight and detained him. We are outraged by this iniquitous trial and call for his release and the release of the 33 other journalists imprisoned in Belarus.
After his arrest on 23 May 2021, when his commercial passenger flight was forcibly diverted to Minsk while crossing Belarusian air space, Pratasevich was subjected to intense psychological pressure and was even forced to confess and apologise during a broadcast by the Belarusian state TV channel ONT. He had been under house arrest in an unknown place and unknown conditions ever since.
As a result of the government’s massive crackdown on independent media, most Belarusian journalists have fled the country, whose ranking fell from 153rd to 157th in RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index, released on World Press Freedom Day.