Reporters Without Borders condemns the three-year confinement sentence that the authorities in Babruysk (160 km east of Minsk) imposed on Alyaksei Zhalnou on 21 July in their continuing judicial harassment of his father, Aleh Zhalnou, a blogger who is very critical of the local police.
If the sentence is confirmed on appeal, Alyaksei Zhalnou will have to spend three years in a detention centre by night and working outside the centre by day. He was also fined 50 million roubles (3,600 euros).
The court found him guilty of hitting a police officer in a police station on 4 September 2013 during the scuffle that ensued when the police handcuffed and hit him and his father. They had been arrested for filming traffic police cars illegally parked on a pedestrian crossing. The police released them a few hours later but kept the video footage they had filmed.
“Unable to silence Aleh Zhalnou, the authorities are now targeting his son,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We deplore this verdict, which preserves the impunity of the local police, and we call on the courts to overturn it on appeal.”
Having declared his intention to appeal, Alyaksei Zhalnou is still free but on a conditional basis. He accused police captain Alyaksandr Butowski of bringing the case against him to avenge his father’s repeated criticism of the local police.
His father was already fined 2.6 million roubles (200 euros) on 1 November 2013 on a charge of disobeying a police officer in connection with the same incident. Police searched his apartment, confiscating his computer and mobile phone, before the trial.
The blogger is well known in Babruysk for criticizing city authorities, especially the traffic police, and has been increasingly harassed in recent years. He was fined 6.9 million roubles (500 euros) on 7 April for not leaving his mobile phone with security officers before a meeting with the head of regional Investigative Committee.
Three weeks before that, he was fined 5.85 million roubles (430 euros) for recording a conversation he had with the head of the city traffic police. In February, the Babruysk prosecutor’s office charged him with “insulting a police officer” in various blog posts in 2012 and 2013. If convicted, he could be also be sentenced to three years of confinement.
Belarus is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The Operational and Analytic Centre (OAC), a unit attached to President Alexander Lukashenko’s office, is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.”