Two journalists in Belarus were convicted Thursday of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison after they covered a protest against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, per the AP. Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, 27, and Daria Chultsova, 23, both of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel, were arrested in November after police broke down the door of a Minsk apartment where they doing a live stream of a demonstration in the Belarusian capital. Addressing the court before the verdict, Bakhvalava said, “I’m not pleading. I’m demanding acquittal for me and my colleagues,” referring to other jailed journalists. The two were charged with “organizing actions rudely violating public order”—accusations they denied. The US Embassy in Belarus has called for their release and urged authorities to stop prosecuting journalists for doing their job.
More than 400 journalists have been detained in Belarus in the last six months, and at least 10 have faced criminal charges and remain in custody. “We consider the sentence politically motivated, its goal is to scare all journalists," the Belarusian Association of Journalists said. Belarus has been rocked by protests after official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide. The opposition and some poll workers have said the election was rigged. Authorities in the Eastern European nation have responded with a sweeping crackdown on the demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people. Human rights activists say more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began, with thousands brutally beaten.
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