MINSK -- The prosecutor in the trial of three Belarusian journalists charged with illegal entrepreneurship and inciting ethnic hatred has asked a court in Minsk to hand suspended sentences to the defendants, which would spare them from prison.
Prosecutor Alyaksandr Karol asked the Minsk city court on January 22 to find freelance journalists Yury Paulavets, Dzmitry Alimkin, and Syarhey Shyptenka guilty and hand each of them a suspended prison sentence of five years.
The three defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The charges stem from articles they contributed to the Russian news outlet Regnum in which they expressed pro-Russia views and promoted the idea of closer integration between Belarus and Russia.
In some articles, the authors described the Belarusian language as a Russian dialect and an attribute of "a lower cultural level."
The three were arrested in December 2016. Their trial began on December 18, 2017.
Belarus and Russia have close ties and are part of a "union state" established in the 1990s, though it exists mostly on paper.
Wariness about Moscow's intentions toward its neighbors has risen since Russia seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and began supporting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, where the ensuing war has killed more than 10,300 people.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has strained ties with the West but now speaks frequently of the need to protect Belarus's sovereignty against potential threats from the east.
Regnum is an online news outlet that covers events in Russia and other former Soviet republics.
A fourth defendant in the case, Yury Baranchyk, is also a Belarusian citizen but is residing in Russia.
Russian authorities detained Baranchyk in March at Minsk's request, but refused to extradite him and later released him.