Belarusian Journalist Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison For 'Insulting' Lukashenka

A Belarusian journalist has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of insulting the country's authoritarian leader, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and slandering two police officers.

The verdict in the case against Syarhey Hardzievich, 50, comes as part of a massive government crackdown in Belarus on independent media, human rights defenders, and activists.

The journalist from Drahichyn, a city 300 kilometers southwest of Minsk, was also ordered by a Belarusian court to pay a $1,600 fine, the Belarusian Association of Journalists said on August 2.

The charges against Hardzievich stem from messages in a Telegram chat group that were deleted last year.

Hardzievich, who worked for a popular regional news outlet, The First Region, rejects the charges.

The Vyasna human rights center declared Hardzievich a political prisoner.

Vyasna says that, in July alone, Belarusian police have conducted more than 200 raids on the offices and apartments of activists and journalists. Dozens of journalists remain in custody either awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

Belarusian authorities have ramped up pressure against nongovernmental organizations and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against those who dispute the official results of the August 2020 presidential election.

Election officials declared Lukashenka the winner, but demonstrators and opposition leaders say the results were rigged in his favor.

With reporting by AP