Belarus sends one more independent journalist to prison

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court in Belarus on Thursday sentenced yet another independent journalist to three years in prison, a second prison sentence handed to a journalist in the European county this week in a sweeping, years-long crackdown on independent media.

According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Aliaksandr Liubianchuk was convicted on the charges of participating in an extremist group. Liubianchuk had worked with a number of independent media, including the Poland-based Belsat TV channel, which was outlawed as extremist in Belarus.

He extensively covered mass protests that erupted in Belarus after its authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko was handed a sixth term after the August presidential 2020 that the opposition and the West denounced as rigged. Lukashenko’s government responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown, in which more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten violently by police.

Liubianchuk was arrested in May and spent six months behind bars. Letters that Liubianchuk wrote to his family and colleagues from prison revealed that his health has declined significantly in detention. Human rights groups declared him a political prisoner — one of over 1,300 in Belarus.

On Wednesday, a prominent investigative journalist, Siarhei Satsuk, was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Independent journalists were the first to face the government’s crackdown. Many were either arrested by the security service or fled the country. A total of 32 reporters are currently behind bars, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

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