2021-02-18 13:35:07 | After Crushing Protests, President of Belarus Exacts Revenge

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Story by: Ivan Nechepurenko The New York Times World News

MOSCOW — In a ruling that reflected the broader crackdown on dissent by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, a court on Thursday sentenced two young journalists to two years in prison for reporting from a demonstration against his rule.

A district court in the capital, Minsk, ruled that the journalists, Catarina Andreeva, 27, and Darja Chulcova, 23, incited unrest by reporting for the Polish television channel Belsat via a video stream from a protest rally.

The court said that, by doing so, the journalists had attracted more people to the rally, creating more work for law enforcement and obstructing public transport.

The journalists said they were doing their job of informing the public.

“Every day I risked my life and health to do my job,” Ms. Andreeva told the court on Wednesday. In the end, she said, she could take comfort from the knowledge that her “conscience is clean.”

The Thursday sentencing was the latest episode in a campaign to silence all forms of opposition to Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus for over 26 years.

And after months of sustained repression, Mr. Lukashenko appears confident that he has weathered the greatest threat to his power in decades.

“We have kept our country intact,” Mr. Lukashenko said last week in a speech during a meeting with allies. “For now.”

Speaking for more than four hours in a packed auditorium — with few in the crowd seeming to be wearing masks to guard against the spread of coronavirus — he said “the blitzkrieg” against Belarus, launched by Western states, had failed.

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The meeting, which drew more than 2,500 pro-Lukashenko bureaucrats and activists from across the country, was carefully choreographed to assert that the wave of protests was an external attack that was successfully defeated.

He unleashed a crackdown on the protests with a level of brutality unseen in Europe for decades.

The police used tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protests indiscriminately. Hundreds were tortured in police precincts and detention centers. At least four people were killed. Overall, more than 1,800 criminal cases were opened against activists, according to Viasna, a human rights group. More than 33,000 were detained by law enforcement following the presidential election, the group said.

In retrospect, Moscow’s help appeared to be key in allowing Mr. Lukashenko to outlast the biggest wave of protests during his rule, said Yauheni Preiherman, director of the Minsk Dialogue Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank.

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After months of determined civic action, the repression took its toll and the protests slowly lost momentum. At the same time, the increasingly emboldened president unleashed the full force of his robust security apparatus to take revenge against a movement that pushed his rule to the brink of collapse.

Artyom Shraibman, the founder of Sense-Analytics, a Minsk consulting firm and research group, called ongoing crackdown a “counterrevolution,” saying that Belarus “didn’t see such repressions since the Stalinist times.”

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Source References: The New York Times World News

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