Two Belarusian bloggers sentenced to more than 10 years in prison
After being detained for 15 months, Palchys was sentenced to 13 years in prison in a mock trial in Minsk on December 17. He was found guilty of inciting hatred, organizing mass riots, organizing activities that disrupt social order and calling for activities prejudicial to national security.
A consultant for Radio Svaboda (the Belarusian service of the Prague-based American broadcaster Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberté), Losik was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Homyel, in the south-east of the country, on December 14 after being held for 18 months. Along with six other political prisoners, he was convicted of organizing mass riots and incitement to hatred after a 173-day trial, the longest ever in Belarus.
The two trials took place behind closed doors in order, according to the judicial authorities, “to prevent the dissemination of extremist documents”.
“These extraordinarily severe sentences, handed down after manifestly unfair trials, are the most severe that Belarusian courts have imposed on media professionals this year,” said Jeanne Cavelier, head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia office. “This persecution by Belarusian justice and the unprecedented severity of these sentences portend the worst for press freedom in Belarus in 2022. RSF calls for the immediate release of Eduard Palchys and Ihar Losik.
The founder of the 1863x website and PALCHIS Telegram news channel, Palchys was arrested while attempting to leave Belarus on September 27, 2020 and was not released after serving an initial 30-day administrative detention sentence. In April 2021, authorities placed an “extremist” tag on his Telegram channel, which investigators described as his “main weapon.”
After a previous ten-month pre-trial detention period, Palchys was convicted by a Minsk court in 2016 of “incitement to hatred” and “distribution of pornographic material”, and was “released under surveillance”.
Losik – including the Telegram channel, Belarus Golovnogo Mozga, was also classified as “extremist” in March 2020 – was arrested in June 2020 during anti-Lukashenko protests organized in the run-up to the August presidential election, and was remanded in custody with hundreds of ‘other political detainees. Under severe physical and psychological pressure in prison, he went on two hunger strikes, one for six weeks, and even at one time tried to kill himself.
The Losik-founded Telegram channel annoyed President Lukashenko to the point that he forced a Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk on May 23, 2021 so that he could stop one of its passengers, Belarus Golovnogo Mozga editor Raman Pratasevich. Subjected to physical and psychological mistreatment and forced to make a public confession, Pratasevich is being held incommunicado while still awaiting trial.
Belarus, whose state apparatus does not hesitate to mistreat and torture journalists in prison, is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.