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5 Nov, 2020 13:22

Belarus places founder & editor of NEXTA social media channel on interstate wanted list for ‘planning anti-government demos’

Belarus places founder & editor of NEXTA social media channel on interstate wanted list for ‘planning anti-government demos’

Belarus has placed two key figures behind popular Telegram channel ‘NEXTA-Live’ on its wanted list, accusing founder Stepan Putilo and editor Roman Protasevich of helping to organize riots following August’s presidential election.

After sharing videos of protests and police brutality, the anti-government media channel climbed to over 1.8 million subscribers and became a highly influential voice for opposition demonstrators in Belarus, and it's now the largest Russian-language channel on the whole of Telegram. Prior to the election, in July 2020, NEXTA-Live had just 300,000 followers,

According to the Investigative Committee in Minsk, Putilo and Protsevich called for “protests, blocking roads, strikes, and coordinated unauthorized mass events by indicating specific locations and routes of movement.”

Due to the Union State agreement between Minsk and Moscow, Putilo and Protasevich are now on the interstate wanted list, meaning they would also be arrested if they crossed into Russia.

The committee also called on Belarusian citizens “not to succumb to provocations posted in various Telegram channels,” urging them to think about the consequences of their actions.

On October 20, a Minsk court officially designated the channel NEXTA-Live and its logo as ‘extremist’ and instructed the country’s information ministry to ban access. The founder, 22-year-old Putilo, now lives in Poland, studying at the University of Silesia in Katowice. If he ever returns to Belarus, he faces up to 15 years in prison. Last month, along with other Belarusian opposition figures, he received the EU’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

Despite their rapidly-growing popularity, the employees of NEXTA-Live insist that the company is entirely independent, and doesn't receive any funding, telling online-based Russian publication the Bell that they have “never received a grant, nor an offer from any third-party organisation or country.” However one of its journalists, London-based Tadeusz Giczan, is also employed by CEPA, a voraciously anti-Russian US lobby group - funded by NATO, the US State Department and American arms contractors - which seeks to promote Washington's influence in Central and Eastern Europe.

Also on rt.com ‘We are by your side’: European Parliament awards Belarusian opposition the 2020 Sakharov Prize

Protests have been taking place in Belarus since August 9, after the country’s presidential election was won by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. According to the official results, 80.1% of voters voted for the long-time president, with just 10.12% voting for his most prominent opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. After the closing of the polling stations, demonstrations began against the falsification of results. In the weeks since, protests have become less frequent and less violent, but still attract thousands of Belarusian citizens.

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