The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Belarus to immediately release journalist Syarhey Hardzievich, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison after being convicted of insulting authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and two police officers.
“The jailing of journalist Syarhey Hardzievich once again demonstrates Belarus authorities’ abuse of the law to silence independent journalists who cover law enforcement abuses,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martínez de la Serna in a statement issued on August 12.
“Authorities should not contest Hardzievich’s appeal and should immediately release him and other journalists unjustly held behind bars.”
Hardzievich, a correspondent with the independent regional news website Pershy Region, was sentenced on August 2 in the western region of Brest. Among the accusations was that Hardzievich reposted a social-media post that called Lukashenka "a rat."
He rejected the charges, saying that he will appeal the verdict.
Hardzievich was detained and placed under house arrest in December and later released and ordered not to leave his permanent address before the trial.
Belarusian authorities have targeted independent media and journalists, as well as dozens of nongovernmental organizations, forcibly expelled or jailed opposition leaders, and arrested tens of thousands of people since a crackdown on massive street protests began after Lukashenka claimed to have won a sixth presidential term in August 2020.
His reelection claim has been dismissed by the beleaguered opposition and the West, which has slapped multiple rounds of sanctions to pressure Lukashenka's government to ease the crackdown, talk with the opposition, and ensure a new, fair election.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say won the August 2020 vote.