3 May 2023 14:31

Blogger Protasevich sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment in Belarus

MINSK. May 3 (Interfax) - A court in Minsk sentenced Roman Protasevich, former editor-in-chief of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta, to eight years of imprisonment on Wednesday, the Belarusian state-run news agency BelTA said.

"The Minsk Regional Court has sentenced Roman Protasevich to eight years in a penitentiary," the agency said.

The defendants, including Stepan Putilo and Yan Rudik, had been publishing information materials "with destructive goals" on the Nexta and Belarus Golovnogo Mozga channels since 2020, mostly from Poland, consistent with "the plot to grab power in Belarus by unconstitutional methods," while executing the roles and accomplishing the tasks of a network under their leadership, the prosecution said. They also "urged disgruntled citizens to commit acts of terrorism," it said.

In addition, the Minsk Regional Court sentenced in absentia Putilo and Rudik, who are currently staying outside of Belarus, to 20 and 19 years of imprisonment, respectively.

They were found guilty of public calls for seizing power and committing acts of terrorism, insults to the president, dissemination of knowingly false information about Belarus, and other crimes.

The Nexta Telegram channel is branded extremist in Belarus.

Back in 2020, the Belarusian authorities added Nexta founders Stepan Putilo and Protasevich to the list of persons engaged in terrorist activity. Protasevich was charged in a case of mass unrest in Belarus.

Protasevich and his girlfriend, student of European Humanities University in Vilnius, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, were detained at the Minsk Airport on May 23, 2021, after the forced landing of a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius. The plane was forced to land under the pretext of a bomb threat, which proved to be false.

The Belarusian Investigative Committee said at the end of June 2021 that Protasevich and Sapega had pleaded guilty and asked for a plea deal. They were placed under house arrest after that.

Sapega was sentenced to six years of incarceration in May 2022 on counts of deliberate incitement to social enmity with severe consequences and illegal gathering and dissemination of information about private life, which affected the rights, freedoms and lawful interests of the aggrieved parties. The court ordered Sapega to pay 167,500 Belarusian rubles (about $65,000) in compensation to the affected persons.

It was announced in April 2023 that the Belarusian Prosecutor General's Office had granted Sapega's request for being transferred to a penitentiary in Russia.