Belarusian journalist Ihar Karnei was sentenced to jail for three years on March 22, 2024, after being arrested in July 2023. (Photo: RFE/RL)

Belarusian journalist Ihar Karnei sentenced to 3 years in prison on extremism charges

New York, March 22, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentencing on Friday of Belarusian journalist Ihar Karnei to three years in prison and a fine of 20,000 rubles (US$6,115) on charges of participating in an extremist group.

“It took three days for the Belarusian authorities to send Ihar Karnei to prison for three years: a typical example of the expediency and arbitrariness of the sentences handed down to independent journalists in the country,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Belarusian authorities must immediately drop all charges against Karnei and release him, along with all other jailed journalists.”

CPJ was unable to immediately determine whether Karnei planned to appeal his sentence.

Karnei’s trial opened on Tuesday in the capital, Minsk, and he was found guilty on Friday, according to the banned human rights group Viasna and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an advocacy and trade group operating from exile, which called for his immediate release.

The state-owned newspaper Belarus Segodnya said that Karnei had collaborated with the BAJ, which was the largest independent media association in Belarus until it was dissolved in 2021 and labeled an extremist group in 2023. The indictment said that Karnei wrote “negative materials insulting the head of state” and others and gave “a false picture” of Belarus, the newspaper added.

Karnei has been in pre-trial detention since he was arrested on unknown charges in July, when authorities also searched his home and seized computers and phones.

Belarus has seen an unprecedented media crackdown since the 2020 election, which gave President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, a sixth term. The vote was widely rejected as fraudulent, leading to huge protests followed by mass arrests.

Belarus was the world’s third-worst jailer of journalists in CPJ’s 2023 prison census, with at least 28 journalists, including Karnei, behind bars on December 1.