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21 Sep, 2021 10:21

1.5 years behind bars for a tweet: Belarusian court sentences Russian woman to jail time after ‘defaming’ Lukashenko on Twitter

1.5 years behind bars for a tweet: Belarusian court sentences Russian woman to jail time after ‘defaming’ Lukashenko on Twitter

A court in the Belarusian city of Brest has sentenced a Russian woman to a year and a half in a penal colony after she was found guilty of defaming the country’s embattled president Alexander Lukashenko in a post on Twitter.

According to the human rights center Vesna, Irina Vikholm was arrested after publishing a tweet linking to her LiveJournal blog, on which she reprinted a BBC report about the detention of Belarusian opposition journalist Roman Protasevich in Minsk.

“Another crime of Lukashenko: an act of state air piracy,” the offending tweet said, alongside a photo of the president. According to the authorities, this is “slanderous information,” which has a maximum penalty of five years.

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Vesna also reported that Vikholm pleaded not guilty, and during the trial stated that the case was “clearly politically motivated.”

The Russian woman, who has lived in Belarus for almost a decade, was arrested in May. Her detention was relayed to Moscow earlier this month, and the Consulate General in Brest met with her in pre-trial prison.

Vikholm’s tweet came shortly after the infamous forced grounding of a Ryanair flight passing through Belarusian airspace, which was dubbed by the airline’s CEO as “state-sponsored hijacking.”

On May 23, a plane flying from Athens to Vilnius was grounded at Minsk Airport following a fake bomb threat. The aircraft was carrying opposition activist Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. As soon as the plane landed in the capital, they were immediately arrested.

According to Lukashenko, the bomb threat came from Switzerland via Proton Mail. However, the email provider later claimed that the warning was sent via email after the plane had already diverted, contradicting Belarusian authorities.

Following the incident, the European Union and the US imposed packages of economic sanctions against Minsk.

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