Belarus charges dissident with organising ‘terrorist’ group

Telegram channel Nexta’s co-founder Stepan Putilo is accused of ‘directing the activities of a terrorist organisation’.

Belarus has launched new criminal charges against the co-founder of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta, Stepan Putilo, accusing the dissident of organising a “terrorist” organisation, according to the Belta state news agency.

Run from abroad, the Nexta Telegram channels helped mobilise historic anti-government protests in the ex-Soviet country in 2020 after the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko for a sixth term in power.

The channel was co-founded by Putilo and Roman Protasevich, another Belarusian activist who was arrested in Belarus in May last year when his Athens to Vilnius Ryanair flight was diverted and forced to land in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

Putilo currently lives in Poland’s capital Warsaw, while Protasevich remains under house arrest in Belarus after he appeared in confession videos that allies believe were made under duress.

‘So-called protests’

According to Belta, Belarusian investigators on Friday said Putilo and another Nexta staffer Yan Rudik were charged with “directing the activities of a terrorist organisation Nexta”.

“Since 2020, the defendants have used their information resources to destabilise the situation on the territory of Belarus and radicalise the so-called protests,” investigators added.

They said, “The terrorists have repeatedly called for inciting social hatred and discord, blocking roads and coordinating street riots, committing terrorist attacks on the railway and sabotage at enterprises that could lead to man-made disasters.”

Putilo already faces a number of criminal charges such as inciting social hatred and treason, and is on international wanted lists in Belarus and Russia.

In 2020, Putilo and Protasevich were placed on Belarus’s “list of terrorists”, while Nexta was designated a “terrorist organisation”.

On Wednesday, Belarus – the only country in Europe that continues to carry out executions – introduced the death penalty for attempts to carry out acts of “terrorism”.

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