Belarus jails journalist for revealing "medical secrets" in protester's death

FILE PHOTO: Journalist Katerina Borisevich reacts inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus February 19, 2021.Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

KYIV (Reuters) - A Belarusian court sentenced a journalist to six months in prison on Tuesday for divulging medical secrets, after she had contradicted official statements about the death of a protester who the authorities suggested was drunk at the time.

Katerina Borisevich from the local news outlet TUT.BY had reported that there was no alcohol in the bloodstream of protester Roman Bondarenko when he died. Officials said he had suffered fatal injuries in a drunken brawl while his allies said he had been beaten by security forces.

Artyom Sorokin, the doctor who had shared Bondarenko's medical report with Borisevich, was given a suspended sentence.

The death of the 31-year-old became a flashpoint in months of mass protests against veteran President Alexander Lukashenko, who launched a violent crackdown that has triggered Western sanctions on Minsk but support from Russia.

The authorities said that revealing information about Bondarenko posed a threat to public safety.

"The only fair verdict in this case would be a complete acquittal ... Neither Katya nor Artyom committed any crimes," Marina Zolotova, TUT.BY's editor-in-chief, told Euroradio, a Belarus-focused radio station based in Poland.

Supporters of Borisevich, 36, shouted "We love you, Katya!" as she was led away after the trial, footage shared on social media showed.

In November, Bondarenko was detained by police after a clash with unidentified people who were removing red and white ribbons - symbols of the opposition against Lukashenko - from a fence in a courtyard in Minsk.

A few hours later, Bondarenko was taken unconscious from the police station to an emergency hospital, where police and medics said he died the next day due to beatings inflicted by unidentified people.

Authorities denied any police involvement in his death.

There have been several recent trials of opposition figures and journalists. In February, two journalists were jailed for filming protests.

The crackdown led the top United Nations human rights official Michelle Bachelet to warn of a "human rights crisis". Belarusian diplomats said their country was being unfairly maligned.

On Tuesday, the Belarusian authorities said they were seeking the extradition of opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in a disputed election last August.

(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Edmund Blair and Philippa Fletcher)

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