Markevich and Mazheika, both of the independent weekly newspaper Pahonya, were convicted on June 24, 2002, by the Leninsky District Court in the city of Hrodna, in western Belarus, of libeling President Aleksandr Lukashenko. The journalists were sentenced to two-and-a-half and two years, respectively, of corrective labor. The case stemmed from two September 2001 editions of Pahonya that criticized the president ahead of the widely disputed September 9, 2001, presidential elections.
The sentences were later reduced to 18 months for Markevich and 12 months for Mazheika. They began serving their corrective labor terms on September 1, 2002. The two men live in detention centers under police supervision and perform compulsory labor. They were the first journalists convicted under a criminal libel law passed in 1999, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison for libeling the president.
During a 10-day research mission to Belarus in the fall of 2002, CPJ visited both journalists and brought them supplies and also lobbied the government for their releases. In August 2002, Markevich reported that the Hrodna City Executive Council had denied a petition to register his new publication, Holos. Previously, Markevich had submitted four other prospective newspapers for the council’s approval, all of which were denied.