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Dozens of people came to the courthouse to support the 12 defendants on May 14.

MINSK -- Eleven Belarusian student activists and a teacher have gone on trial in Minsk amid a deepening crackdown on participants in nationwide protests against the disputed results of last year’s presidential election.

Journalists were barred from attending the trial that started on May 14 in the building of the Kastrychnik district court in the Belarusian capital.

The defendants include students from various universities in Minsk and a teacher from the Belarusian State University of IT and Radio Electronics, Volha Filatchankava, who gained prominence by taking part in a video statement last year that called for an end to violence against demonstrators who had demanded resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Only two relatives of each defendant were allowed to attend the hearing, held by Judge Maryna Fyodarava of the Soviet district court.

It is unclear why the authorities decided to hold the trial in the building of a different court.

The building of the Kastrychnik district court was surrounded by riot police, who detained at least six people who came to support the defendants.

The defendants, whom Belarusian rights group have recognized as political prisoners, are charged with "conspiracy, preparation, and organization of and participation in activities that violate social order.

If convicted, the defendants each face up to three years in prison.

All 12 were arrested in November amid the mass demonstrations that swept across Belarus after the August 9 vote -- which the opposition say was "rigged" -- that gave Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.

Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, many sentenced to lengthy prison terms, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted.

Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994, and other top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the former Soviet republic.

Russia has labeled the media outlet VTimes as a "foreign agent," a move that will require it to label itself as such and subject it to increased government scrutiny.

MOSCOW -- Russia has labeled the media outlet VTimes as a "foreign agent," a move that will require it to label itself as such and subject it to increased government scrutiny.

The Foreign Ministry's list of those deemed "foreign agents" included VTimes when it was published on May 14.

On April 23, Russia applied the same foreign agent label to Meduza, a popular independent news site.

Russia’s so-called "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as "foreign agents," and to submit to audits.

Later modifications of the law targeted foreign-funded media, including RFE/RL's Russian Service, six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, a network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

Blinken: Russia Undermining Press Freedom, Targeting RFE/RL
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At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified again to allow the Russian government to add individuals, including foreign journalists, to the list and to impose restrictions on them.

Activists have described the "foreign agent" legislation as “restrictive” and intended "to demonize independent groups."

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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