Aleh Hruzdzilovich (file photo)
The United States has welcomed the release of RFE/RL correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison by Belarusian authorities for allegedly participating in anti-government demonstrations that he was covering as an accredited journalist.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, commenting on September 25 on the release of Hruzdzilovich and other political prisoners who had been rounded up in a crackdown on dissent, said that the move by the Belarusian authorities was a "step in the right direction" but that more moves need to follow.
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"Too many political prisoners remain behind bars in Belarus," Price said in a statement. "We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners."
Hruzdzilovich arrived in Lithuania on September 21 accompanied by his wife, Maryana, after he was released from a prison in the region of Mahilyou where he had been held since May.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly, who previously condemned his prison sentence as “illegitimate,” hailed the release of Hruzdzilovich, who had served as an RFE/RL correspondent focusing on human rights since the 1990s.
“Aleh was robbed of time he will never get back with his family while wrongly imprisoned, and I am overjoyed that he will now be reunited with his wife and other loved ones,” Fly said immediately after Hruzdzilovich's release. “I am grateful to members of the international and advocacy communities for their unwavering support of Aleh’s case, but our work is not done.”
Fly noted that two other Belarusians who have been imprisoned since the crackdown -- RFE/RL consultant and blogger Ihar Losik and RFE/RL freelance correspondent Andrey Kuznechyk -- remain behind bars and “should also be released immediately.”
A court in Minsk sentenced Hruzdzilovich in early March for his presence at mass protests challenging the official results of the 2020 presidential election in Belarus that handed authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka a sixth term in office. Hruzdzilovich was also ordered to pay 56,000 rubles ($16,600) in compensation to the Mensktrans city transportation agency, which was a plaintiff in the case.
Mensktrans claimed Hruzdzilovich’s participation in three unsanctioned rallies cost it revenue. At one demonstration, Hruzdzilovich said he was working as a correspondent with accreditation issued by the Foreign Ministry, while at the other two protests he was working as a correspondent for the Narodnaya volya (People's Will) newspaper.
Hruzdzilovich was arrested in December amid a harsh crackdown by Belarusian authorities on independent media, rights activists, and democratic institutions in the wake of the protests. The opposition and West say the vote was rigged and that opposition candidate Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya won the election.