Belarus on Friday launched new criminal charges against the co-founder of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta, Stepan Putilo, accusing him of organising a “terrorist” organisation, the Belta state news agency reported.
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 strongman 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 Warsaw, while Protasevich remains under house arrest in Belarus after he appeared in confession videos that allies believe were made under duress.
According to Belta, Belarusian investigators 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 made-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 in 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.