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Belarusian journalist faces up to 6 years in prison for opposition reporting – WTOP News

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A prominent journalist went on trial in Belarus Monday, the latest step in a years-long crackdown…

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A prominent journalist went on trial in Belarus Monday, the latest step in a years-long crackdown on opposition figures, independent journalists and human rights activists.

If convicted on the charges of assisting extremist activity, Pavel Mazheika, 45, faces up to six years in prison for his work covering the political opposition.

He is accused of working for news outlets including Belsat TV, which broadcasts in Belarusian from its base in neighboring Poland. The Belarusian authorities have labeled Belsat as “extremist.”

Journalists and activists in Belarus have faced large-scale repression since the August 2020 vote that handed a sixth term to President Alexander Lukashenko. Following the election, which was rejected as fraudulent by the opposition and the West, Belarus was swept by massive protests, some of which drew more than 100,000 people.

Authorities responded with a brutal crackdown. More than 35,000 people were arrested, thousands were beaten by police while in custody, and dozens of nongovernmental organizations and independent media outlets were shut down.

Mazheika has been behind bars for more than 10 months since he was detained on August 30, 2022. In courtroom pictures from Belarusian state news agency Belta, the journalist had noticeably lost weight and kept his back turned to the camera. Mazheika had previously said that he was severely beaten during his arrest by security officers who tried to gouge out his eye.

The reporter is just one of 35 Belarusian media workers currently jailed or awaiting trial, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Mazheika is on trial in the city of Grodno, in western Belarus. He appeared in the dock alongside lawyer Yuliya Yurhilevich, who was accused of giving him information on Belarus’ political prisoners.

Yurhilevich, 42, who has practiced law for almost 18 years and defended human rights activists, was stripped of her license in February 2022.

Mazheika is a well-known figure in Belarus. In 2002, he was sentenced to two years in jail for “slandering the president”, before becoming press secretary for presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in 2006.

Mazheika has since worked for leading independent news outlets in both Belarus and Poland, hosting several shows and acting as executive director for Belsat TV.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is among those who have condemned Mazheika’s and Yurhilevich’s arrests.

“A well-known journalist and lawyer in the dock is the verdict against the Lukashenko regime, which declares anyone who disagrees with the dictatorship an extremist,” she said. “Mazheika has already become a legendary journalist who pays a high price for freedom of speech”.

Some 1,491 recognized political prisoners are currently behind bars in Belarus, according to the Viasna human rights center.

© 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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