The Belarusian government convicted Aliaksandr Mantsevich, the chief editor of a well-known independent newspaper, the Regionalnaya Gazeta, of “discrediting the Republic of Belarus” on Friday. It sentenced him to four years in prison. This comes as the regime established by Alexander Lukashenko continues its efforts to suppress any form of dissent.
A court in Molodechno, a central city in Belarus, also ordered Mantsevich to pay a fine of 94,000 Belarusian rubles (equivalent to €27,000). The Belarusian Association of Journalists reported on these developments.
Mantsevich and his newspaper were accused by the authorities of using content that had been labelled extremist. This label has been applied loosely recently to any materials critical of the Belarusian government. The intention is to intimidate the democratic opposition and human rights defenders.
The regime unleashed harsh measures against the protesters of mass demonstrations after the fraudulent elections in 2020. Even now, about 1,500 people remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Approximately 500,000 Belarusians were also forced to abandon the country, fearing torture and arrests.
The regime specifically targeted independent journalists, human rights groups, and activists. Several independent news outlets have been blocked; others were persecuted as extremists. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a total of 33 journalists are currently behind bars in Belarus.
The newspaper Regionalnaya Gazeta was published in Molodechno since 1995. It has remained a popular independent news source in the central and western parts of Belarus. However, after the 2020 protests, its newsroom has been subjected to several raids, leading to the end of the newspaper’s print edition in July 2021. Moreover, in January 2022, its website was declared extremist and blocked by the authorities.
In March 2023, Mantsevich was detained and spent eight months in pre-trial detention, during which his health significantly deteriorated, according to the Viasna human rights group.
Mantsevich has maintained his innocence and, in a closing statement in court, said he was “proud of my newspaper.”
“‘My grandfather was shot in 1941 for Belarus; should I be afraid of your 4 years?’ said Aliaksandr Mantsevich, editor-in-chief of the independent Regional newspaper, looking at the prosecutor’s eyes,” Pavel Latushka, Deputy Head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus posted on Twitter.
Belarus’ opposition leader in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, denounced Mantsevich’s sentence as “absurd.”
“I love my people & I love Belarus” – these were the words of journalist Aliaksandr Mantsevich as he received a 4-year prison sentence today. The editor of Regionalnaya Gazeta was punished just for fulfilling his journalistic duty. I condemn this sham trial & demand his release,” Tsikhanouskaya posted on Twitter.