Journalists Darya Chultsova, 23, and Yekaterina Andreyeva, 27, were detained in November while covering a demonstration in memory of an opposition activist who died in Minsk a few days before.
Local media reported that the activist, Roman Bondarenko, apparently died from injuries sustained after being beaten by riot police. The Prosecutor General of Belarus announced on Wednesday that an investigation into his death has been launched but said “that the involvement of employees of the internal affairs bodies in causing Bondarenko bodily harm has not been established.”
The court on Thursday ruled that Chultsova and Andreyeva are guilty of “organizing a demonstration that grossly violates public order.”
According to the investigators, Belsat reported, the journalists allegedly gathered protesters by talking about it on air, which then led to “interruptions of public transport in the area.” Chultsova and Andreyeva maintain they are innocent.
Belarussian human rights group Viasna designated Chultsova and Andreyeva as political prisoners and said charges against them are drawn up because of their journalistic work. Belsat is a politically independent TV channel based in Poland that primarily reports on Belarus. Its budget relies on Polish state subsidies.
Belarus has been engulfed in mass protests since presidential elections in August 2020, after Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, secured his sixth term. Independent observers said the election was rigged, and tens of thousands poured onto the streets to demand Lukashenko’s resignation.
Riot police have cracked down harshly, beating and detaining thousands of protesters. CNN and other outlets previously reported on torture in detention centers described by former detainees and their families as well as persecution opposition activists faced in Belarus.