After ten months in provisional detention, young Belarusian blogger Eduard Palchys finally left prison as a partially free man at the end of his trial today before a Minsk court, which found him guilty of “inciting hatred” and “distributing pornographic material.”
The court sentenced him to 21 months of “release under surveillance” but, on the grounds of his time in pre-trial detention, reduced this to one month. This means he can live at home but for the next month will have to respect a curfew and report regularly to the police, and will not be able to leave his home town without police permission.
The court convicted him in connection with blog posts criticizing Russian foreign policy in Ukraine and Belarus.
“We are relieved that Eduard Palchys is finally out of prison and reunited with his family,” said Johann Bihr, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“But we are appalled by the court’s decision to convict him. This blogger should never have been prosecuted for his posts, which come under the right to free speech, and should not have spent a single day in detention.”
Palchys is the founder of 1863x.com, a blog that is often critical of Russian foreign policy. He was arrested in January in Russia and was extradited in May to Belarus, where he remained in detention until today.
Belarusian human rights groups regarded him as a political prisoner and campaigned energetically for his release. Demonstrations were held every day outside the court during his trial, which began on 14 October.
Palchys has announced his intention to resume posting on his blog as soon as the authorities return his computer. However, another complaint against him is due to be examined on 3 November and could lead to 1863x.com being banned for “extremism.”
Asked about the state of freedom of expression in Belarus, Palchys replied: “That depends on how many years you are ready to spend behind bars.”
Andrey Bastunets, the head of the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), told RSF that Palchys’ arrest, trial and conviction were typical of the drastic curbs on free speech in Belarus. The relatively mild sentence was linked to the government’s current desire for rapprochement with the European Union and showed that a dialogue on human rights was possible, he added.
Belarus is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.
See RSF’s previous press releases on this case: https://rsf.org/en/belarus