Washington, 29 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. State Department has condemned a Belarusian court ruling this week convicting two journalists of libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In a written statement, spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday the State Department joins the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe and human rights groups in protest against the "unacceptable" sentencing this week of journalists Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka.
The two journalists, who work for the Belarusian-language paper "Pahonya" in the western city of Hrodna, were found guilty of "offending" Lukashenka ahead of last fall's presidential election. They must do between up to 2 1/2 years of community service, which in Belarus means living in semi-captivity in a labor camp.
Boucher said that media harassment in Belarus has risen since September's "flawed" elections. He called the sentences "offensive to the universal principles of free speech and free press" that amounted to "politically motivated retribution."