Paris, February 16, 2023 – In response to multiple news reports that the trial of Belarusian journalists Raman Pratasevich, Stsypan Putsila, and Yan Rudzik started on Thursday, with Pratasevich facing trial in person and the others being tried in absentia from exile, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for the many charges against the three to be dropped:
“The ridiculous number of crimes attributed to Raman Pratasevich, Stsypan Putsila, and Yan Rudzik is a cynical display of the vindictive nature of the Belarusian government, which is determined to retaliate against those who covered the 2020 protests demanding President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s resignation,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately stop this sham trial, drop all charges against Pratasevich, Rudzik, and Putsila, and let the journalists work freely.”
The trial of Pratasevich and Putsila, cofounders of the Telegram channel NEXTA, and Rudzik, an administrator of the channel, started in Minsk, the capital, on Thursday, February 16, those reports said.
NEXTA extensively covered protests against Lukashenko’s disputed reelection in 2020. Authorities accuse the journalists of committing at least 1,586 crimes, and have filed more than 10 separate charges against each of them, including organizing mass unrest, conspiracy, incitement to hatred, insulting the president, and financing extremist activities, state news agency BelTA reported.
Belarusian authorities arrested Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega in May 2021 after diverting a commercial Ryanair flight and forcing it to land in Minsk. Pratasevich, who has been forced into several televised “confessions” since his arrest, is presently under house arrest.
Belarus was the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.