Two Belarusian bloggers sentenced to more than 10 years in prison
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Belarusian bloggers Eduard Palchys and Ihar Losik and condemns the extremely harsh sentences of 13 and 15 years in prison that they have been given – just three days apart at the end of the year – after months in provisional detention.
After being held for 15 months, Palchys received his 13-year jail sentence in a sham trial in Minsk on 17 December. He was convicted on charges of inciting hatred, organising mass rioting, organising activities that disrupt social order, and calling for activities detrimental to national security.
A consultant for Radio Svaboda (the Belarusian service of the Prague-based US broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty), Losik was given his 15-year jail sentence in the southeastern city of Homyel on 14 December after being detained for 18 months. Along with six other political prisoners, he was convicted of organising mass rioting and inciting hatred at the end of a 173-day trial, the longest ever held in Belarus.
Both trials were held behind closed doors in order, according to the judicial authorities, to “prevent the dissemination of extremist documents.”
“These extraordinarily harsh sentences, passed at the end of grossly unfair trials, are the severest that Belarusian courts have passed on media professionals this year,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This persecution by the Belarusian justice system and the unprecedented severity of these sentences presage the worst for press freedom in Belarus in 2022. RSF calls for the immediate release of Eduard Palchys and Ihar Losik.”
The founder of the 1863x website and PALCHYS Telegram news channel, Palchys was arrested as he was trying to leave Belarus on 27 September 2020 and was not released after serving an initial sentence of 30 days of administrative detention. In April 2021, the authorities placed an “extremist” label on his Telegram channel, which investigators described as his “main weapon.”
After a previous, ten-month spell in provisional detention, Palchys was convicted by a Minsk court in 2016 of “inciting hatred” and “distributing pornographic material,” and was “released under surveillance.”
Losik – whose Telegram channel, Belarus Golovnogo Mozga, was also classified as “extremist” in March 2020 – was arrested in June 2020 during anti-Lukashenko protests held in the run-up to the August presidential election, and was placed in provisional detention along with hundreds of other political detainees. Subjected to significant physical and psychological pressures in prison, he conducted two hunger strikes, one lasting six weeks, and at one point even tried to kill himself.
The Telegram channel founded by Losik meanwhile annoyed President Lukashenko to the point that he forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk on 23 May 2021 so that he could arrest one of its passengers, Belarus Golovnogo Mozga editor Raman Pratasevich. Subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment and forced to make public confessions, Pratasevich is being held incommunicado as he continues to await trial.