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The West does not consider Alyaksandr Lukashenka to be Belarus's legitimate leader.

BABRUYSK, Belarus -- A woman in Belarus has been handed an 18-month prison sentence for "insulting" the country’s authoritarian ruler, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and other authorities after pictures mocking the officials were found on her phone.

A court in the eastern city of Babruysk sentenced Volha Kukushkina on January 31 after finding her guilty of insulting Lukashenka and government officials.

The Crisis In Belarus

Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.

The probe against Kukushkina was launched last fall after police searched her home and found photoshopped pictures on her mobile phone of Lukashenka and other government representatives wearing Nazi uniforms. The search was initiated by an investigation to find the author of the photos, which had appeared in some online chat rooms a year ago.

Also on January 31, a court in the western city of Brest sentenced a local resident, Vyachaslau Panasyuk, to two years of open prison -- a sentence that envisions convict's residing in a special dormitory with parole-like limitations -- after finding him guilty of insulting the governor of the Hrodna region, Uladzimer Karanik, in his online posts.

Kukushkina and Panasyuk are two of the many Belarusians who have faced trials linked to mass protests against Lukashenka following a controversial presidential election in August 2020 in which Lukashenka claimed reelection, even though many Belarusians and Western nations say the poll was rigged.

The protests were met with the sometimes violent detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition's leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and media outlets.

The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the presidential election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime.

Since Aleksei Navalny returned from Germany a year ago, thousands of protesters have been detained for demonstrating in support of the Kremlin critic, with many jailed.

MOSCOW -- A Russian photographer who used to work for jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's group has been charged with inciting hatred and online calls for terrorism over his critical comments of President Vladimir Putin, the government, and law enforcement.

Lawyer Valeria Vetoshkina said on January 31 that her client, Aleksandr Strukov, faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the charges, which the photographer denies.

According to Vetoshkina, the charges against Strukov stem from his comments last year in articles published by the newspaper Znak and published on its Telegram channel.

Strukov was detained on January 26 after police searched his home. Two days later, a court in Moscow sent him to pretrial detention.

On January 25, Russia added Navalny and several of his allies to its list of "terrorists and extremists."

Over the past year since Navalny returned from Germany, where he was recovering from a poison attack that almost killed him, thousands of protesters have been detained for demonstrating in support of the Kremlin critic, with many jailed.

More than half of his political coordinators have left Russia or been arrested for their activism, with some placed on wanted lists as "terrorists" or "extremists."

In June 2021, a Moscow court declared all organizations linked to Navalny "extremist," preventing people associated with Navalny and his network of regional offices across Russia from seeking public office.

The ruling against his organizations also carries possible lengthy prison terms for activists who have worked with them.

Navalny himself has been in prison since February 2021 after being speedily tried and handed a 2 1/2-year prison sentence for violating the terms of an earlier parole for a conviction widely regarded as trumped-up and politically motivated.

Navalny has blamed Putin for his poisoning with a Novichok-style chemical substance. The Kremlin has denied any role in Navalny's poisoning.

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"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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