A Belarusian journalist who has been behind bars for four days is facing charges over an article he wrote about a deadly raid by officers of the Committee of State Security (KGB) on a Minsk apartment a week ago.
Henadz Mazheyka, a correspondent for the Belarusian edition of the Moscow-based Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, was indicted for insulting a government official or inciting social hatred, the Interior Ministry said on October 4.
The charges carry sentences of up to 12 years in prison.
The authorities have detained nearly 120 people across Belarus on similar charges since a September 28 shooting in the capital in which an IT worker and a KGB officer died, according to the Minsk-based human rights group Vyasna.
The group says the arrests are connected to comments on social media about the incident.
The Interior Ministry said that Mazheyka was arrested on October 1 upon arriving in Minsk from Russia, where he tried to travel to an unspecified third country. Russian authorities ordered him to return back to Belarus as he had been labeled an undesirable person in Russia, the ministry said.
Komsomolskaya Pravda in Moscow quoted Mazheyka's relatives as saying on October 5 that the journalist has been transferred to a detention facility in the town of Zhodina, near Minsk.
Belarusian authorities blocked Komsomolskaya Pravda's website last week after Mazheyka's article was published about Andrey Zeltsar, an employee of the U.S.-based EPAM Systems IT company who was shot dead during last month's shooting incident.
In the article, a classmate of Zeltsar remembers him as a decent person.
The Union of Journalists of Russia urged Belarusian authorities to immediately release the journalist, describing his arrest as "pressure on independent journalism" in Belarus.
Belarus was engulfed by protests last year after a presidential election in August -- which the opposition and the West say was rigged -- gave authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.
In response, the government has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement and independent media, arresting thousands of people and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
The opposition and the West have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the country’s legitimate leader and called for a new, independently monitored vote.