Nexta creators and editors sentenced to prison in Belarus
On May 3, the Minsk Regional Court in Belarus announced the verdict in a high-profile criminal case against the creators and editors of the Nexta project, an opposition news outlet: Stsiapan Putsila, Yan Rudzik, and Raman Pratasevich. Judge Viachaslau Tuleika found them guilty on a number of criminal charges and sentenced the defendants to prison terms ranging from eight to 20 years in a medium-security penal colony. Raman Pratasevich was not taken into custody in the courtroom; he remains under house arrest. Putsila and Rudzik were tried in absentia. The trial lasted 10 weeks, with some hearings held behind closed doors.
On April 21, state prosecutor Sakalova requested prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years.Today, May 3, Judge Viachaslau Tuleika imposed the following punishments on the defendants: Pratasevich received an eight-year sentence, Putsila received a 20-year sentence, and Rudzik received a 19-year sentence in a medium-security penal colony. Raman Pratasevich who arrived at the sentencing with a bag of belongings, was nevertheless not taken into custody in the courtroom; he remains under house arrest.
The defendants—27-year-old Raman Pratasevich, 24-year-old Stsiapan Putsila, and 29-year-old Yan Rudzik—were charged with numerous criminal offenses. According to state media, they are accused of committing at least 1,586 crimes. The Prosecutor General's Office had previously reported that the defendants also face a claim for property damage compensation totaling more than 30 million rubles (about $12 million).
At one of the hearings, the prosecutor requested to resume the judicial investigation into Raman Pratasevich's case. During the trial, Pratasevich was additionally charged with leading an extremist group, committed repeatedly, as he administered the Telegram channel “Belarus of the Brain” (Russian: Беларусь головного мозга) and not just NEXTA. As a result, the prosecutor argued for a more severe charge compared to the previous one.
Pratasevich had previously pleaded guilty in full.He also partially admitted to the new charge. The blogger stated that he had formally led the channel for two to three months and had not posted any information about children or security personnel.
He noted that he does not recognize the charge of leading "extremist formations" because both media were declared as such after he left them.
Pratasevich also did not fully recognize the claim for 30 million rubles. He partially admitted to the damage caused to the Ministry of Transport due to the transport stoppage but did not recognize the amount of damage, around 25 million rubles, which was spent on payments to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and the Ministry of Health employees.
According to pro-regime sources, the charges against Putsila were amended to exclude part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code (“other preparation of persons for participation in group actions grossly violating public order”) and part 3 of Article 293 of the Criminal Code (“training or other preparation of persons for participation in mass riots, or financing of this activity”).