10-year sentence asked for journalist forced down in Belarus


Prosecutors have requested a 10-year prison sentence for a dissident Belarusian journalist who was arrested after a warplane forced down a commercial airliner he was taking to Lithuania

ByYURAS KARMANAU Associated Press

April 21, 2023, 10:44 AM

TALLINN, Estonia — Prosecutors requested a 10-year prison sentence Friday for a dissident Belarusian journalist who was arrested after a warplane forced down a commercial airliner he was taking to Lithuania.

Raman Pratasevich is on trial in Belarus on charges of organizing unrest and plotting to seize power. Pratasevich ran a Telegram messaging app channel that was widely used by participants in mass protests against the disputed August 2020 election that gave authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office.

The protests, which lasted for months, were longest and largest demonstration of opposition to Lukashenko since he took power in 1994. Belarusian authorities responded to the demonstrations with a brutal crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested, thousands beaten by police and dozens of media outlets and nongovernmental organizations shut.

Pratasevich lived in exile at the time, but he and his girlfriend were arrested in May 2021 when their Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was ordered to land in the capital of Belarus, Minsk. Belarusian authorities said there was a bomb threat but later said no explosives were found on board.

Western countries condemned the flight diversion as tantamount to hijacking and imposed strong sanctions against Lukashenko and Belarus.

Pratasevich subsequently made several confessional appearances on state television that critics claimed were done under duress. He was later released from custody and put under house arrest.

His girlfriend, a Russian citizen, was sentenced to six years in prison in May 2022.

Pratasevich appeared healthy at his trial on Friday. Two founders of the Telegram channel Nexta are also being tried in absentia.

Separately, the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna reported Friday that a court had rejected the appeal of the group’s founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, who was sentenced in March to 10 years in prison on a conviction of financing groups that promoted public disorder.

Viasna says nearly 1,500 people have been put behind bars in Belarus in connection with opposition activities.

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