Belarusian activist Protasevich sentenced to eight years in prison

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By Webdesk

Allegations against the 27-year-old included organizing mass riots and calling for sanctions against Belarus.

Roman Protasevich, a dissident journalist who was pulled from a plane forced to land in Belarus two years ago, has been sentenced to eight years in prison, state news agency BELTA said.

The 27-year-old was flying from Greece to Lithuania in May 2021 when the flight was suddenly diverted to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, where he was arrested along with his girlfriend.

Western leaders called the move a “hijacking” and have called on Belarus to release Protasevich, a longtime critic of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Along with two others — who were tried in absentia — Protasevich was charged with committing at least 1,586 crimes, BELTA said.

The charges against him include organizing mass riots, preparing actions that seriously violate public order, calling for sanctions against Belarus, founding or leading an extremist group, and plotting to seize power.

The circumstances of Protasevich’s arrest caused outrage and led to European Union sanctions against Lukashenko.

Lukashenko, a former collective farm manager, has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, a year before Protasevich was born.

Protests against him intensified in 2020 after he was awarded a sixth term in a contentious election, and quickly led to violent crackdown.

Human rights groups say thousands of protesters have been arrested and many beaten and tortured by security officials in Belarus, one of Russia’s few allies.

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