MINSK -- A court in Minsk has found two photojournalists -- including one from RFE/RL -- guilty of violating Belarus's law on mass gatherings and sentenced them each to 11 days in jail.
The Frunze district court found RFE/RL photojournalist Uladz Hrydzin and another photographer, Alyaksandr Vasyukovich, guilty during a trial on September 16. A third man, their friend Yahor Kalyahin, was fined 540 rubles ($210) on the same charge.
The three were detained in a Minsk bar by a group of people wearing balaclavas on September 13, the day when tens of thousands rallied in the Belarusian capital to protest against official results from an August 9 presidential election that handed a landslide victory to the incumbent, Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
The Interior Ministry reported more than 400 arrests on that day.
“RFE/RL deplores the jail sentences imposed on journalists Uladz Hrydzin and Alyaksandr Vasyukovich, simply for doing what journalists do – reporting the news," acting RFE/RL President Daisy Sindelar said in a statement.
"These sentences are the latest examples of the Belarusian government’s ongoing assault on independent journalism -- and a clear attempt to silence reporters telling the truth about Belarus's deeply flawed elections and the brutal crackdown on citizens that the world has been witnessing for weeks," she added.
Hrydzin, who was recently stripped of foreign-media accreditation, was detained just before he sent photos of the protest to RFE/RL.
The protesters and opposition leaders say the election was rigged. Lukashenka, who took just over 80 percent of the ballots according to official results, denies any fraud.
Since the vote, thousands of people have been detained and beaten by police, while nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been forced to leave the country or been arrested in a widening crackdown condemned by the United States and the European Union.
The crackdown includes stifling the media.
On September 4, six Belarusian journalists were sentenced to three days in jail after being detained while covering an anti-government protest in Minsk.
Belarusian authorities have stripped accreditations from at least 17 journalists from major foreign news organizations -- including five from RFE/RL or its affiliates -- who have been covering the country’s turmoil.