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Belarus sentences dissident journalist to eight years

Raman Protasevich, a Belarusian journalist who was arrested after being hauled off a Ryanair plane that was forced to land in Minsk almost two years ago, was sentenced on Wednesday to eight years in jail on charges of conspiring against the state.

Raman Protasevich in detention facility in Minsk: Belarusian authorities

The Belarusian interior ministry announced that Raman Protasevich, an opposition activist taken from the Ryanair aeroplane forced to land in Minsk…

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The 27-year-old was found guilty of a range of offenses including organizing mass disturbances, inciting acts of terrorism and slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Belta state news agency reported.

He had worked as a journalist at the news outlet Nexta, which reported extensively on mass protests against Lukashenka in 2020 following an election that the opposition and Western governments denounced as rigged.

Nexta’s founder Stsiapan Putsila and former editor Yan Rudik were sentenced in absentia by the same court to 20 and 19 years respectively. Moreover, the Belarusian regime declared Nexta a “terrorist organization” last year.

Prosecutors had accused the three defendants of at least 1,586 crimes, including “conspiracy to seize state power”, calling for sanctions against Belarus and “creating or leading an extremist group”.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the trial “fake”. She noted that the verdicts were issued on World Press Freedom Day, tweeting that Protasevich had been “the regime’s hostage since the Ryanair hijacking”.

The Belarus regime again shows its disregard for justice by sentencing 3 journalists in a fake trial on #PressFreedomDay. Stsiapan Putsila to 20 yrs, Yan Rudzik to 19 yrs, both in absentia. Raman Pratasevich to 8 yrs. He's been the regime's hostage since the @Ryanair hijacking.

— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) May 3, 2023
The circumstances of Protasevich’s arrest in May 2021 prompted international outrage and triggered European Union sanctions against Lukashenka.

The journalist was flying from Greece to Lithuania when Belarusian air traffic control diverted the flight to Minsk on the false pretext of a bomb threat. He was arrested and detained along with his Russian then-partner, Sofia Sapega, who was sentenced to six years and is now set to be transferred to serve her term in Russia.

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