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Belarusian Vlogger In Trouble For Mocking 'LukaSHERLOCK'

Stsipan Svyatlou's NEXTA channel on YouTube boasts nearly 112,000 followers.

Stsipan Svyatlou is something a cybercelebrity in his homeland. The Belarusian's YouTube channel has attracted tens of thousands of followers who are drawn to his offbeat and irreverent take on events in his homeland.

But the country's long-ruling, authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, might not be one of them.

After the vlogger, who publishes under a pseudonym, posted a recent video that appeared to mock Lukashenka, the authorities are reportedly investigating whether he insulted the "honor and dignity" of the Belarusian president.

The episode -- dubbed "LukaSHERLOCK" in a nod to the famous Scotland Yard sleuth Sherlock Holmes -- mocked the idea that Lukashenka had personally helped solve a murder dating back nearly a decade.

After the publication of the clip featuring an image of the president with a superimposed pipe, two police officers searched Svyatlou's family's Minsk apartment on February 22. They seized a computer and a video camera that Svyatlou, who is away studying in Poland, said did not belong to him.

"There is nothing that's insulting on the channel. I'm convinced this is happening to crack down on dissent," Svyatlou told RFE/RL's Belarus Service in an interview published on February 23.

Slandering the president is a criminal offense in Belarus that can result in a prison sentence.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka tolerates little dissent.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka tolerates little dissent.

The Investigative Committee refused to answer questions on the case from RFE/RL. No formal charges have been filed against Svyatlou at this point.

Lukashenka tolerates little dissent and routinely locks up political opponents. More than 100 reporters were fined last year just for merely lacking accreditation, according to Amnesty International.

Police Search

Two officers, one in uniform and one in plainclothes, showed up at Svyatlou's Minsk apartment on February 22 armed with a search warrant from the Investigative Committee.

Svyatlou's mother, who was home at the time, said the warrant contained a statement from an unidentified Belarusian claiming that her son had insulted the honor and dignity of the president on his YouTube channel.

Under Article 368 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, defaming the president can result in up to five years in prison.

Svyatlou said the two officers never identified themselves to his mother, and did not provide her with a copy of the warrant.

During the search, the two seized a laptop computer Svyatlou says is used by his brother, along with a video camera. "It's not mine. I don't know why they need it," he told RFE/RL. "Anything related to the case is not there. No banned literature. There were just personal files."


The police action comes a few weeks after Svyatlou posted his video, Aleksandr LukaSHERLOCK And CHAOS.

Svyatlou takes a humorous jab at a recent claim by Lukashenka that he personally had helped solve a murder case dating back to 2009. The president made the claim during a dressing-down of a top law enforcement official in Minsk on February 1 that was widely reported in state media.

"I analyzed the materials and instructed the prosecutor and the KGB chairman to use all tools to investigate the case. The culprit was caught in Russia and brought to Minsk," Lukashenka was quoted as saying by the official BelTA news agency.

The episode proved especially popular, garnering more than 246,000 views on Svyatlou's YouTube channel, NEXTA, which boasts nearly 112,000 followers.

Police Action Won't Stop Him

Svyatlou says it was the first time authorities had taken issue with something on his YouTube channel, which he has operated for more than two years.

The first entry on his channel was posted on the eve of the presidential election held in Belarus on October 11, 2015, in which Lukashenka won his fifth term in office by an overwhelming margin.

Even with the possibility of a criminal charge now hanging over his head, the vlogger doesn't seem a bit deterred.

A day after the police visit, Svyatlou released a new episode as scheduled. And judging by his recent posts he has not backed down from reporting critically on events in Belarus.

His video posted on February 22 takes aim at recent local elections, noting that no opposition candidates were on the ballot and alleging that vodka, among other tricks, was used to lure Belarusians to the polls.

The entry, titled Kolya Lukashenko Becomes A Politician/ELECTIONS in Belarus, points out that Lukashenka raised the issue of violations on election day -- not at the polls, but at the Winter Olympics.

Skier Anton Kushnir had failed to qualify for the men's aerials due to what the Belarusian leader said was an unfair judge.

Journalists Tightly Controlled In Belarus

In the past, journalists have been arrested, and even imprisoned, in Belarus for allegedly slandering Lukashenka.

In one case that drew international attention, a correspondent for a leading Polish newspaper was arrested twice for slandering Lukashenka.

Andrzej Poczobut, who worked at the time for Gazeta Wyborcza, was detained in 2012 for supposedly insulting the Belarusian leader. In 2011 he had received a suspended sentence for articles he wrote that were critical of the president.

Aside from allegedly insulting Lukashenka, reporting on inconvenient events or facts can land a reporter in hot water in Belarus.

Journalist Larysa Schyryakova, from the city of Homel in southeastern Belarus, was arrested and fined repeatedly for reporting on protests. She reported that police had warned her that she could be found "socially irresponsible" if she committed further administrative offences and that her 11-year-old son might be placed in a children's home, Amnesty International wrote in its annual report released on February 22.

The rights watchdog points out that official accreditation remains mandatory for anyone working for a foreign media outlet in Belarus and is routinely denied.

More than 100 print, radio, and TV journalists and bloggers were detained -- some repeatedly -- for not having obtained accreditation in 2017, often leading to fines. In at least eight cases journalists reporting from protests were arrested as participants and sentenced to administrative detention of between five and 15 days, according to the Amnesty report.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.

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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.