A Belarusian court on Wednesday sentenced journalist Katerina Pakhvalova to eight years and three months in prison for “treason against the state” in a secret trial, the official Belta news agency reported.
Previously, the opposition media Belsat, who worked for her before her arrest, had reported an eight-year prison sentence. The young woman was already serving a two-year prison sentence in connection with another case.
His trial took place behind closed doors in the town of Gomel (south). No information was filtered on the content of the treason charges. The journalist’s lawyer had to sign a confidentiality agreement that prevented him from even informing his client’s relatives.
Nor did Belta Agency provide any details about the facts against which the journalist is accused.
The article of the Criminal Code on the basis of which it was ruled punishes the transfer of state secrets to foreign bodies, espionage, or even cooperation with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the security of Belarus.
The 28-year-old used the pseudonym Katerina Andreeva in her work.
She was arrested in mid-November 2020, in the midst of a historic protest movement in Belarus against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, which was considered fraudulent.
She was arrested by police in Minsk while filming a demonstration in honor of artist Roman Bondarenko, who died three days ago when police arrested him.
She had been accused of organizing a riot, and then in February 2021 she was sentenced to two years in prison along with one of her fellow journalists, Daria Chultsova.
Both women worked for the company Belsat, which is based in neighboring Poland. In July 2021, the Belarusian judiciary declared these opposition media outlets “extremist”.
“I am outraged to see how the regime is taking revenge on those who dared to resist,” tweeted the Belarusian opposition figure in exile, Svetlana Tikhanovska. She felt that Katerina Pakhvalova was punished for “showing the world the brutal truth” of the authorities.
Condemning the “spurious” and “political” trial, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, Mary Struthers, denounced the “horrible and unjust new verdict” against a “courageous” journalist.
“Katrina Andreeva and other critics of the Belarusian authorities who have been imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression should be released,” she added.
The regime of Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994 and backed by the Kremlin, has relentlessly suppressed the 2020 protest movement by sentencing dozens of dissidents and journalists to heavy prison sentences.
According to the non-governmental organization Viasna, which has targeted itself with repression, 1,244 people are currently imprisoned in Belarus for political reasons.