(NEW YORK)— In response to the news that Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich has been sentenced to eight years in prison, alongside journalists Stsyapan Putsila and Yan Rudzik, sentenced in absentia to 20 and 19 years, respectively, PEN America issued the following statement:

“We are deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of the environment for freedom of expression in Belarus, and the egregious sentences handed down against Pratasevich, Putsila, and Rudzik–on World Press Freedom Day, no less–exemplify that closing space. Since the 2020 presidential election in Belarus, internationally regarded as neither free nor fair, Lukashenka’s government has jailed journalists, writers, and other cultural figures on politically-motivated charges for expressing dissenting views. The Belarusian government must release all those unjustly detained for exercising their free expression rights, and end its prolonged crackdown on opposition voices.”

Stsyapan Putsila was a co-founder of the opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, where Raman Pratasevich and Yan Ruzdik were both editors. Prior to his arrest, Pratasevich had been living in exile and managing NEXTA during the protests that followed the stolen Belarusian election of 2020. Putsila and Ruzdik remain in exile.

Pratasevich was arrested in May 2021, after the Belarusian government forced a commercial flight he was on to land in Minsk. At the time, PEN America condemned the shocking act, calling it “brazen, outrageous” and “a threat to journalists, writers, and dissidents the world over.”

After being hauled off the flight, Pratasevich appeared on Belarusian state television to confess, denounce the opposition, and apologize to Alexander Lukashenka; critics have said his statements were made under duress. He was released into house arrest shortly after he allegedly began collaborating with the Belarusian KGB. Prosecutor Natalia Sokolova reportedly requested a shorter prison sentence for Pratasevich because he had “fulfilled the terms of cooperation.”

PEN America’s 2022 Freedom to Write Index found that 16 writers and public intellectuals were held in custody in Belarus during 2022, placing it among the top countries jailing writers around the world. Many of the writers were jailed in relation to their expression following the 2020 presidential election.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057