Hike sentence

Belarus sentences investigative journalist to 8 years in prison

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A Belarusian court sentenced a prominent investigative journalist to eight years in prison on Wednesday, the latest step in a sweeping crackdown on independent media by Belarusian authorities.

Siarhei Satsuk, editor of popular online media Yezhednevnik, has investigated the corruption of Belarusian leaders and covered the mass protests that have raged across the country for months in 2020.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists said Satsuk was found guilty of accepting a bribe, abuse of power and incitement to hatred – all of which his defense team dismissed as unfounded.

Concluding a trial that was held behind closed doors, the court ruled that the journalist should serve eight years in a maximum security prison and pay a fine of approximately $6,000, as well as approximately $5,000 in damages and interests.

Satsuk’s media actively covered the protests sparked by the August 2020 presidential election that the opposition and the West dismissed as rigged. Belarusian authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who won a sixth term in the vote, responded by unleashing a sweeping crackdown on protesters that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

The 54-year-old journalist was arrested in December 2021 and has remained behind bars ever since. Belarusian authorities blocked Yezhednevnik, who published high-profile investigative reports alleging corruption in the healthcare system, on the day of the journalist’s arrest.

Satsuk said he had received threats for his investigative reporting. In a written statement he provided to other journalists shortly before his arrest, Satsuk said that “in Belarus, a person’s life and freedom do not cost anything, it is easier for (the authorities) to (arrange) a blow on a person than to recognize the schemes of corruption.

Human rights defenders have declared Satsuk a political prisoner, one of more than 1,300.

“The Belarusian Association of Journalists is convinced that law enforcement and the court arbitrarily used criminal charges against Satsuk, trying to take revenge on the journalist for his high-profile investigations,” the group’s statement said. She demanded the journalist’s release and the quashing of his conviction.

Independent journalists were the first to face government repression. Many were arrested by the security services or fled the country. A total of 32 reporters are currently behind bars, either awaiting trial or serving their sentences, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.