Belarusian journalist sentenced to four years of forced labour

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the sentence of four years of “restricted freedom” that Belarusian freelance journalist Zmitser Halko received yesterday from a Minsk court on a charge of using force against a police officer.

If the sentence is confirmed, Halko will have to spend four years sleeping in a camp, working where he is told and reporting twice a day to the authorities. Until it is confirmed or overturned on appeal, he will be under house arrest, after spending the past three months in provisional detention.

The alleged use of force occurred during an altercation with a police officer who, along with several other officers, burst into his home in November 2017. The court also ordered Halko to pay 850 roubles (370 euros) to the officer. Prior to these criminal proceedings, Halko had already been given an administrative fine in connection with the incident.

“This harsh sentence is yet further evidence of how Zmitser Halko is being persecuted,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “This decision must be overturned an appeal.”

After the court had passed sentence, Halko described the trial as politically motivated. He is known for his extensive reporting from Ukraine and for criticizing the Belarusian government. Prior to his arrest, he had been working for Belaruski Partyzan, an independent news website.

Belarus is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

The authorities have imposed additional constraints on press freedom in recent months, including an unprecedented wave of fines on independent journalists and the adoption of an even more draconian media law.