HOMEL, Belarus -- A Belarusian journalist in the southeastern city of Homel has been sentenced to five years in prison as the government continues to crack down on the media following mass protests sparked by a disputed presidential election two years ago that handed victory to authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Judge Mikalay Dolya of the Homel regional court sentenced Iryna Slaunikava on August 3 after finding her guilty of leading an extremist group and organizing activities that disrupt social order.
Prosecutors sought four years in prison for Slaunikava. It is not clear how the journalist pleaded as the trial was held behind closed doors.
Slaunikava, a former correspondent for Belsat TV who went on trial in June, was first arrested along with her husband, Alyaksandr Loyka, in October 2021. The couple was sentenced to 30 days in jail on charges of distribution of extremist materials and minor hooliganism.
After serving their jail terms, Slaunikava was charged again, this time with "leading an extremist group" and the organization and preparation of events disrupting social order. Loyka was not arrested a second time.
Lukashenka, 67 and in power since 1994, has tightened his grip on the country since the 2020 election by arresting -- sometimes violently -- tens of thousands of people. Fearing for their safety, most opposition members have fled the country.
Most of the country's independent media have also been either arrested or left the country due to the crackdown.
The West has refused to recognize the results of the election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader. Many countries have imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime in response to the suppression of dissent in the country.