Trial of 2 journalists who filmed Belarus protest opens

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The trial of two journalists charged with violating public order with their work covering a protest opened Tuesday in Belarus.

Ekaterina Bakhvalova and Daria Chultsova were arrested in November while filming police disperse a protest in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. They were charged with “organizing actions rudely violating public order” and have denied the accusations.

The journalists, who were covering the protest for TV channel Belsat, could face up to three years in prison, if convicted.

Speaking in court on Tuesday, Bakhvalova dismissed the case as fabricated. The judge refused to release the two women from custody.

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus issued a statement last week calling for their release and urging Belarusian authorities to stop prosecuting journalists for doing their jobs.

“The case against these journalists is one of dozens of examples demonstrating the authorities’ continued manipulation of the law for political gain with intent to silence the media,” the embassy said in a statement.

Belarus has been shaken by protests since an Aug. 9 presidential election that gave President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term in office by a landslide, according to the official returns. The political opposition and some poll workers have said the election was rigged.

According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the anti-Lukashenko protests began, and thousands of them were brutally beaten. Lukashenko has relentlessly suppressed the opposition during his more than 26 years in office.

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