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  • Belarusian journalist Yauhen Merkis sentenced to 4 years in prison

    In response to a Belarusian court sentencing journalist Yauhen Merkis to four years in prison on Tuesday, May 30, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the statement.

    “The sen­tenc­ing of Belaru­sian jour­nal­ist Yauhen Merkis to four years in prison on retal­ia­to­ry extrem­ism charges is the lat­est expres­sion of author­i­ties’ vendet­ta against those who dared cov­er nation­wide protests fol­low­ing the dis­put­ed 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion,” said Gul­noza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Cen­tral Asia pro­gram coor­di­na­tor, in New York. “Author­i­ties should drop all charges against Merkis, release him imme­di­ate­ly along­side all oth­er impris­oned jour­nal­ists, and stop retal­i­at­ing against mem­bers of the press for their report­ing.”

    On Tues­day, a court in the south­east­ern city of Homel con­vict­ed Merkis of cre­at­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in an extrem­ist for­ma­tion and facil­i­tat­ing extrem­ist activ­i­ties, accord­ing to those reports and reports by the banned human rights group Vias­na and the Belaru­sian Asso­ci­a­tion of Jour­nal­ists, an advo­ca­cy and trade group oper­at­ing from exile. The court also con­fis­cat­ed the journalist’s car, lap­top, and phone.

    Author­i­ties detained Merkis in Sep­tem­ber 2022. Merkis, a for­mer free­lance reporter, con­tributed report­ing about the 2020 protests and was repeat­ed­ly detained and fined in con­nec­tion to his jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ty, Vias­na report­ed. He stopped work­ing in jour­nal­ism after author­i­ties labeled sev­er­al inde­pen­dent media out­lets he worked with as extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions, BAJ report­ed.

    Merkis’ tri­al began on May 11, 2023, and was held behind closed doors. Author­i­ties accused the jour­nal­ist of send­ing pic­tures about the pres­ence and move­ment of Russ­ian mil­i­tary equip­ment in the Homel region to Telegram chan­nels labeled “extrem­ist” by the author­i­ties.

    CPJ was unable to imme­di­ate­ly deter­mine whether Merkis intends to appeal the sen­tence. His lawyer signed a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment, and whether the jour­nal­ist pled inno­cent or guilty has not been made pub­lic, BAJ report­ed.

    Belarus was the world’s fifth worst jail­er of jour­nal­ists, with at least 26 jour­nal­ists behind bars on Decem­ber 1, 2022, includ­ing Merkis, when CPJ con­duct­ed its most recent prison cen­sus.

    Read more:

    Homel journalist and local history expert Yauhen Merkis was sentenced to 4 years

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