Journalists of Belarus' oldest newspaper were handed prison terms Tuesday in the latest move in a relentless government crackdown on independent media.
Nasha Niva's chief editor, Yahor Martsinovich, and journalist Andrey Skurko each were sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of dodging communal payments they have rejected as politically driven. Martsinovich and Skurko have remained in custody since their arrest in July.
The newspaper was blocked in July and banned as extremist in November on the 115th anniversary of its founding. The ban has exposed anyone who would publish or repost Nasha Niva materials to prison terms of up to seven years.
Most other Nasha Niva journalists have left the country and continued to publish the newspaper online, changing its domain to bypass the blocking.
Nasha Niva extensively covered the massive anti-government protests that erupted after President Alexander Lukashenko was handed a sixth term after an August 2020 presidential vote that was denounced as rigged by the opposition and the West.
Belarusian authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Overall, 32 Belarusian journalists are in custody, serving their sentences or awaiting trial.
Lukashenko has held on to power amid bruising Western sanctions relying on support from his main ally and sponsor Russia, which used the Belarusian territory to launch an invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
"We upheld the freedom of speech and independence of Belarus, but both have now become hollow," Martsinovich said in a speech at his trial. "The newspaper has survived two revolutions and two world wars during its history, and now it's witnessing another war into which Belarus was drawn. We are its victims."