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  • RFE/RL Freelancer Kuznechyk handed six-year prison sentence in Belarus

    The fam­i­ly of RFE/RL free­lance cor­re­spon­dent Andrey Kuznechyk say the jour­nal­ist has been sen­tenced to six years in prison in Belarus on a charge of cre­at­ing an extrem­ist group.

    Accord­ing to the rel­a­tives, the Mahi­ly­ou region­al court in the coun­try’s east took only a few hours to hear the case and hand down its ver­dict and pun­ish­ment on June 8 in a closed-door tri­al.

    The 43-year-old father of an 8‑year-old daugh­ter and 2‑year-old son was ini­tial­ly sen­tenced to 10 days in jail on Novem­ber 26 on hooli­gan­ism charges that he reject­ed.

    On Decem­ber 6, when his sen­tence end­ed, he was kept in deten­tion and hand­ed anoth­er 10-day jail term, also on a hooli­gan­ism charge.

    After serv­ing that jail term, Kuznechyk remained in jail and sub­se­quent­ly was charged with cre­at­ing an extrem­ist group, a charge that offi­cials with­held from Kuznechyk’s rel­a­tives and col­leagues for months.

    Kuznechyk’s rel­a­tives told RFE/RL at the time that the jour­nal­ist con­tin­ues to main­tain his inno­cence.

    RFE/RL Pres­i­dent Jamie Fly has said Kuznechyk’s pre­vi­ous sen­tence was based on «absurd­ly fab­ri­cat­ed charges» and should be con­sid­ered a crime in itself.

    Fly has also con­demned the Belaru­sian gov­ern­men­t’s actions against inde­pen­dent media in the coun­try, say­ing Kuznechyk is among the «hostages tak­en by this law­less regime, not crim­i­nals. Fac­tu­al report­ing is not an ‘extrem­ist’ activ­i­ty, and jour­nal­ism is not a crime.”

    Since a dis­put­ed August 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion sparked mass protests over author­i­tar­i­an ruler Alyak­san­dr Lukashenka’s vic­to­ry, tens of thou­sands of Belaru­sians have been arrest­ed for voic­ing any dis­sent against the regime.

    The crack­down has pushed most oppo­si­tion politi­cians, who say the vote was rigged, to leave the coun­try fear­ing for their safe­ty.

    Many West­ern gov­ern­ments have refused to rec­og­nize the results of the elec­tion and do not con­sid­er Lukashen­ka to be the coun­try’s legit­i­mate leader. Many coun­tries have imposed sev­er­al rounds of sanc­tions against his regime in response to the sup­pres­sion of dis­sent in the coun­try.

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