After Crushing Protests, President of Belarus Exacts Revenge
MOSCOW – In a ruling echoing the widespread crackdown on dissent by Belarus President Alexander G. Lukashenko, a court on Thursday sentenced two young journalists to two years for reporting from demonstrations against their rule.
A district court in the capital Minsk said reporters, Katrina Andryeva, 27 and Darja Chulkova, 23, aroused unrest by reporting to Polish television channel Belsat via video stream from a protest rally.
The court said that, by doing so, journalists attracted more people to the rally, generating more work for law enforcement and disrupting public transportation.
Journalists said that they are working to inform the public.
“Every day I put my life and health at risk to do my job,” Ms. Andreeva told the court on Wednesday. Finally, she said, she can take comfort from the knowledge that her “conscience is clear.”
Thursday’s sentence was the latest episode in the campaign to silence all forms of protest by Sri. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years.
And after months of persistent repression, Mr. Lukashenko appears confident that he has posed the greatest threat to his power in decades.
“We have kept our country intact,” Mr. Lukashenko said in a speech last week during a meeting with allies. “for now.”
Speaking in a filled auditorium for more than four hours – Some of the crowd are seen wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronovirus – He said that the “blitzkrieg” against Belarus initiated by Western states had failed.
The meeting, which attracted more than 2,500 pro-Lukashenko bureaucrats and activists from across the country, was carefully choreographed to claim that the wave of protest was an external attack that was successfully defeated.
Mr. Lukashenko’s iron grip on power was seen to slip in August, as it was widely believed to be rigged after the presidential election to ensure his victory.
The demonstrations calling for his expulsion attracted thousands of people, Eclipse at government-held rallies In defense of him. In a tractor factory, the workers are always considered the chief electors of Mr. Lukashenko, Smell him.
At the time, Mr. Lukashenko looked increasingly lost, seeking help Russian President Vladimir V. From Putin, his authoritarian ally. The Kremlin threw a lifeline by giving him a loan and sending it to a group of propaganda experts in Belarus.
Supported by Mr. Putin, the Belarusian leader had no need to seek any approval from the West. He was free to ensure that protests were suppressed as much as possible.
He took an action against the protests Level of toughness Unseen in Europe for decades.
Police indiscriminately used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protests. Hundreds were tortured in police instincts and detention centers. At least four people died. In total, over 1,800 criminal cases were opened against activists, accordingly Human Rights Group, Visna. More than 33,000 people were detained by law enforcement after the presidential election, The group said.
In retrospect, Moscow’s help Mr. Lukashenko was instrumental in ejecting the biggest wave of protest during his regime, said Yohni Premierman, director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.
After months of scheduled civil action, repression took its toll and protests gradually subsided. At the same time, the rapidly enlarged president instigated the full force of his strong security apparatus to take revenge against a movement that pushed his regime to the brink of collapse.
On Wednesday, a Minsk court began hearing the case against Mr. Lukashenko’s most popular political rival, Viktor Babrico. accordingly For recent elections.
Mr. Babrico, who headed a Russian state-owned bank in Minsk, is considered a serious threat due to Mr. Lukashenko’s popularity and connection to Moscow. He was arrested in June on corruption charges and now faces up to 15 years in prison.
On Tuesday, police officers also raided 90 offices and apartments associated with some of Belarus’s remaining civic organizations, including a major human rights group, an NGO of journalists, and an independent trade union.
Others were sentenced to administrative arrests for pulling traditional white and red flags attached to the opposition on the walls of their homes.
Activists collecting money to help the protesters pay fines were accused of financing the unrest. In early February, police arrested two members of a prominent Minsk-based NGO for helping people with disabilities. They now face criminal charges.
Eritom Schreibman, founder of Sinsk-Analytics, a Minsk consulting firm and research group, called the ongoing crackdown a “counter-protest”, noting that Belarus “had not seen such repression since the time of the Stalinists.”