Khalip (Reuters)
Khalip (Reuters)

Irina Khalip handed a suspended two-year prison term

New York, May 16, 2011The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s conviction and sentencing of Irina Khalip, the Minsk-based correspondent for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and calls on Belarusian authorities to acquit her on appeal. 

Today, the Zavodskoi District Court in Minsk declared Khalip guilty of “organizing and preparing activities severely disruptive of public order,” and gave her a two-year suspended prison term, local and international press reported. The charges stem from her critical reporting on the December 19 protests in Minsk against the rigged presidential vote held the same day.

Although Khalip was not imprisoned and is still allowed to publish, her sentence comes with restrictions. The court has ordered Khalip to tell the police all of her future travel plans. She is also banned from changing residence and leaving Minsk for more than a month, Andrei Bastunets, a lawyer with the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of Journalists, told CPJ. The court has also declared that Khalip will be immediately imprisoned if she is convicted of two administrative violations. The violations include a speeding ticket or a fabricated charge of an insult of a police officer, according to Bastunets.

According to the Moscow-based independent radio station Ekho Moskvy, as well as a number of international news outlets, Khalip plans to appeal today’s verdict.

“This two-year suspended prison sentence is an act of retaliation for Irina Khalip’s critical reporting,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “This sentence plus the restrictions placed on her movements are designed to further chill critical journalism. This verdict must be overturned on appeal.”

Khalip’s trial started Wednesday. In her own defense, Khalip told the court that she attended the protests as a journalist, not as an opposition activist, local and international press reported. 

The Belarusian security service, known as the KGB, imprisoned Khalip on December 19, following the fraudulent presidential vote that she covered for Novaya Gazeta. The KGB initially charged her with “organizing mass unrest.” In late January, following an international outcry and protests, including from CPJ, authorities released Khalip from prison and put her under severely restricted house arrest.

Khalip has long been at odds with Belarusian authorities in retaliation for her critical reporting, CPJ research shows. Among other indignities, Khalip has had her home office raided, has received anonymous death threats, and has had two of the independent newspapers she edited closed by the government

On Saturday, Belarusian authorities handed a five-year year prison term to Khalip’s husband, Andrei Sannikov, who ran in the December elections as an opposition candidate, local and international press reported.