(FILE) Police officers detain a journalist attempting to cover a rally in Minsk, Belarus, 26 March 2017. EFE/EPA/TATYANA ZENKOVICH

Belarus sentences dissident Roman Protasevich to 8 years

Moscow, May 3 (EFE).- Belarusian opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich was sentenced to eight years in prison on Wednesday.

Protasevich, who worked for the Nexta media portal, was arrested in 2021 along with his then-girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, after their flight from Athens to Lithuania was forced by Belarus to land in Minsk on the grounds of an alleged bomb threat.

Protasevich was sentenced along with two other defendants, Nexta founder Stepan Putilo and editor-in-chief Yan Rudik, neither of whom were present at the trial.

(FILE) Belarusian Oppositionist and associate of Roman Protasevich in NEXTA Stepan Putilo (C) speaks during a press conference on opposition journalist Roman Protasevich in front of the Embassy of Belarus in Warsaw, Poland, 24 May 2021. EFE/EPA/TOMASZ GZELL POLAND OUT

Putilo, in exile in Poland, was sentenced to 20 years, while Rudik was given 19 years.

The three defendants were found guilty of conspiring to overthrow the Belarusian regime of president Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to the independent media outlet Zerkalo.

The media outlet played a leading role in the protests that spread across Belarus in August 2020 following the presidential election in which Lukashenko claimed a sixth term in office. The opposition in Belarus and Western powers say the elections were fraudulent.

The Nexta platform, which was outlawed after being declared a “terrorist organization”, became the main tool for coordinating and informing dissidents in the country and managed to evade regime surveillance using social media from Warsaw.

Sapega, who was sentenced in 2021 to six years in prison for conspiracy with her then-partner, is being extradited to Russia. A Russian court will consider her case on the 24th. EFE