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

    On May 30, the Homel Regional Court announced its verdict for journalist, historian, and local history expert Yauhen Merkis who received 4 years of imprisonment in a enhanced regime  colony. Judge Aliaksei Khlyshchankou found Merkis guilty under Part 1 and Part 2 of Article 361-4 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus ("Assistance to extremist activity"), as well as under Part 3 of Article 361-1 of the Criminal Code ("Participation in extremist formation").

    The tri­al was held behind closed doors. Only the announce­ment of the ver­dict was made pub­lic. Sev­en court ses­sions were held. Accord­ing to human rights activists and friends of the jour­nal­ist, there was talk of trans­fer­ring pho­to infor­ma­tion on the pres­ence and move­ment of Russ­ian mil­i­tary equip­ment in the region to online resources clas­si­fied as «extrem­ist».

    It is the ninth month of Yauhen Merkis’ impris­on­ment in a pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter. One day in a pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter is count­ed by the court as one and a half days in a colony. The secu­ri­ty forces detained him on Sep­tem­ber 13, 2022. A search was con­duct­ed then at the jour­nal­ist’s place of res­i­dence, the infor­ma­tion car­ri­ers were seized. Search­es took place at his father’s home, as well as at friends’ homes.

    The human rights com­mu­ni­ty has rec­og­nized Yauhen Merkis as a polit­i­cal pris­on­er.

    In March of this year, after the end of the inves­ti­ga­tion, Yauhen had a short-term meet­ing with his fam­i­ly. He did not com­plain about his health, although he had colds. In Decem­ber, he spent four days in a pun­ish­ment cell. He was pun­ished with tougher con­di­tions of deten­tion for alleged­ly not shav­ing.

    Even before his arrest, Yauhen Merkis aban­doned his jour­nal­is­tic activ­i­ties due to the fact that a num­ber of inde­pen­dent media out­lets he col­lab­o­rat­ed with were clas­si­fied by the author­i­ties as «extrem­ist for­ma­tions».

    Merkis is a his­to­ri­an by edu­ca­tion; he grad­u­at­ed from the His­to­ry Depart­ment of the Belaru­sian State Uni­ver­si­ty. He focused on local his­to­ry, received a cer­tifi­cate of a tour guide, includ­ing for work­ing with for­eign­ers in Ger­man. The jour­nal­ist speaks Belaru­sian well. He also learned Eng­lish. Merkis also tried to learn French in the pre-tri­al deten­tion cen­ter, but, as far as we know, he had dif­fi­cul­ties with get­ting text­books.

    Yauhen began to pop­u­lar­ize his­to­ry, lan­guage, and cul­ture of his native land and ethno­graph­ic trav­els as a stu­dent. Lat­er he found­ed a web­site Local His­to­ry of Homel and Homel region, head­ed the Homel youth pub­lic local his­to­ry asso­ci­a­tion Tala­ka, and he was also the region­al coor­di­na­tor of a social and cul­tur­al cam­paign Budz­ma!.

    When protests of the so-called «social par­a­sites» took place in Homel and oth­er cities of Belarus in 2017, Merkis was stream­ing from mass actions and became one of the most rec­og­niz­able region­al lead­ing jour­nal­ists.

    Pri­or to his deten­tion, Yauhen char­ac­ter­ized him­self as fol­lows: «I’m an Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian, a sup­port­er of West­ern val­ues and patri­archy in the fam­i­ly, I love punk, rock, and retro music of the 1950s–1970s, the works of «true poets» — Ana­toly Sys and Vasyl Stus. I love Homel. I val­ue authen­tic­i­ty in peo­ple. But the idea is the main and pri­ma­ry thing. I’m a depres­sive opti­mist. I admire peo­ple like the head of Tes­la Motors, Elon Musk, who go far with their ideas and activ­i­ties, who change the world».

    Read more:

    Poland Puts Sanctions On 365 Belarusians Over Journalist’s Jailing

    The authorities are trying to destroy independent journalism in Belarus. Support the Solidarity Marathon!

    Journalists Padabed and Lazarau recognised as political prisoners


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