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Extremist or extreme punishment?

Courtesy photo/RSF

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 12 October 2016.

In the light of a recent independent expert analysis of blogger Eduard Palchys' posts, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses the Belarusian authorities of bringing baseless charges against him and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Also known by the blog name of “Jhon Silver,” Palchys is due to go on trial before a Minsk municipal court on 14 October on charges of “inciting racial, national or religious hatred” and “distributing pornographic material.” The court has let it be known that he will be tried behind closed doors.

Detained since January, 26-year-old Palchys is facing a possible five-year jail sentence.

He is charged in connection with nine allegedly “extremist” blog posts, which the authorities refused to identify for a long time. But, in response to a request filed months ago by Belarusian human rights groups (and supported by RSF), the offending texts were finally released and were recently examined by an independent linguistic expert, who concluded that the charges were without foundation.

Six organizations, including the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an RSF partner, issued a joint statement on 5 October in which they said they regarded Palchys as a political prisoner and called for his immediate release.

“The publications are nothing more than the author's views on certain historical events, facts, containing criticism of geopolitical concepts and the foreign policy of some states,” the statement said. “The nine articles do not contain evidence of incitement to war, violence or statements in favor of (...) hatred, nor do they pose a threat to national security, public order or public health or morals.”

“We call on the Minsk court to take account of this independent expert opinion and to drop all the baseless charges against Eduard Palchys, whose detention for the past ten months is a glaring injustice,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“We also call on the court to rescind the decision to hold the trial behind closed doors. There are no grounds for this if the defendant is simply being tried for the opinions he expressed.”

In the posts on his blog, 1863x.com, Palchys expressed his political views, above all his criticisms of Russia's foreign policy and its relations with Ukraine and Belarus. He was arrested in January in Russia and was extradited in May to Belarus, where has been in pre-trial detention ever since.

Belarus is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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