Belarusian Blogger Gets Prison Term For Online Videos He Says Investigate Illegal Drugs, Protests

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- A blogger in Belarus has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for two videos posted online that he says are investigative journalism but authorities said incited social discord.

The Minsk City Court found 36-year-old Paval Spiryn guilty of the charges on February 5 and sentenced him the same day.

The case stemmed around two videos Spiryn posted on YouTube -- one about illegal drugs operations in Belarus and one focusing on police brutality in the dispersal of protesters during ongoing rallies demanding the resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Spiryn has rejected the accusations saying he is being persecuted for the subject matter his journalism covers.

Lukashenka was officially declared the victor of an August 9 presidential election, but opposition and public outrage over what they saw as a rigged vote has sparked continuous protests since, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets with demands that the authoritarian leader step down and new elections be conducted.

Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.

Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.

In a separate case on February 5, a different court in Minsk sentenced 29-year-old artist Alyaksandr Nurzdinau to four years in prison, finding him guilty of taking part in the unsanctioned rallies in August and attacking police.

Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.

The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka, 66, as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the "falsification" of the vote and the postelection crackdown.