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.