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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Journalists' Trial Nears End in Belarus




OSHMYANY, Belarus -- A prosecutor urged a Belarussian court Tuesday to convict two journalists for Russian television of illegally crossing the border, but to impose a suspended sentence that could keep them out of jail.


Pavel Sheremet, a reporter for Russian ORT television, and his cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky -- both Belarussian citizens ---were arrested in July while filming a report on lax border controls.


Prosecutor Vladimir Sido asked the court to find them guilty and to sentence Sheremet to three years in prison and Zavadsky to two years imprisonment. He recommended, however, that the sentences be suspended for a year and dropped altogether if the two men stay within the law.


Sido's request seemed intended to smooth over relations with Moscow, while at the same time controlling the operation of an independent press.


The court's impending ruling appeared likely to coincide with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's visit Wednesday and Thursday to Moscow, where he is due to meet with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and other officials.


The journalists' arrests had drawn strong protests in Russia and strained the otherwise friendly relationship between the two former Soviet republics.


The court in Oshmyany, a small town in the Grodno region 120 kilometers west of the capital, Minsk, has wrapped up questioning in the trial and begun final arguments. A verdict could come as early as Wednesday.


Courts in Belarus often follow the recommendations of the prosecutors.


Since the trial began a month ago, Sheremet and his lawyers have often protested the way the proceedings were being conducted.