Prosecutor Seeks Two Years In Prison For Belarusian Journalists Over Protests

MINSK -- The prosecutor in the trial of two journalists for Belsat, the Polish-funded satellite television station, has asked the court to sentence both to two years in prison.

Prosecutor Alina Kasyanchyk asked the court in Minsk on February 17 to find Katsyaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova guilty of "organizing public events aimed at disrupting civil order."

Andreyeva and Chultsova were arrested on November 15 while covering a rally in Minsk commemorating Raman Bandarenka.

Bandarenka died from injuries sustained in a vicious beating by a group of masked assailants -- whom rights activists allege were affiliated with the authorities -- during one of the weekly rallies demanding the resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The two journalists said at the start of the trial on February 9 that they were at the demonstration solely to do their jobs as journalists.

Belarusian human rights organizations have declared Andreyeva and Chultsova political prisoners and demanded their immediate release and the dropping of all charges against them.

Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, was declared the victor of an August 9 presidential election, but opposition and public outrage over what was seen as a rigged vote has sparked continuous protests since, bringing tens of thousands onto the streets with demands he step down and new elections be held.

Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies, 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 by security officials against some of those detained.

Lukashenka 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, 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 postelection crackdown.