A Belarus court has jailed two TV journalists for two years on charges of fomenting protests, for filming a rally against the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko .
Katerina Andreyeva, 27, and Daria Chultsova, 23, who work with Poland-based Belsat TV were arrested in an apartment block in November 2020 while live-streaming an unauthorised protest, according to Belarus government.
Investigators in the Belsat case alleged that the TV journalists, had encouraged disorder that halted 13 bus services and also blocked trolleybus and tram lines.
Belsat reports that the transport routes specified did not include the square where the journalists were filming.
In August 2020, mass protests took place across Belarus after Alexander Lukashenko who has been in power since 2004 claimed victory in the presidential election although reports say it was widely rigged.
Prosecutors say the journalists disrupted bus services in the Belarusian capital by
broadcasting footage of the demonstration, allegations Belsat TV rejected.
On Wednesday, a former banker Viktor Babaryko, seen as Lukashenko’s main rival was tried in court.
He has been in custody since last June and is accused of taking bribes and money-laundering when he was head of Belgazprombank – charges that can bring up to 15 years in jail.
Babaryko, 57, has denied charges saying the case was fabricated to block him from standing against Lukashenko in the election.
After the August election the Belarus opposition organised huge rallies every Sunday, usually with more than 100,000 people thronging the streets of Minsk.
Belarus police cracked down harshly on the protestors and thousands were arrested and many were beaten up.
In a court statement quoted by Belsat Ms Andreyeva denied the “incitement” charge. She said the crowd had gathered at the square already before her filming and protesters could not have watched the live stream anyway because the authorities were blocking web access to it in Minsk.
“I’m totally innocent of the crime I’m accused of. I regard this prosecution as politically motivated, a fabricated case from start to finish,” she said. “It’s a primitive act of secret service retribution for my professional work.”
In a written statement quoted by Belsat, Ms Chultsova said “I didn’t incite anyone, didn’t organise, didn’t urge anyone to commit any acts”.
They now face jail time of two years.