Updated at 11:09,11-12-2017

Belarus: RSF calls for release of blogger held for past six months

Reporters without borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for more transparency in the judicial proceedings against detained Belarusian blogger Eduard Palchys and for a revision of Belarus legislation on media offences.

Palchys, who operated a political blog called 1863x.com under the name of "Jhon Silver", has been held provisionally for the past six months, first by the Russian authorities after his arrest in Russia in January and now by the Belarusian authorities since his extradition to Minsk in June.

He was originally arrested in May 2015 by the Belarusian KGB, who had him confined in a psychiatric hospital for expert evaluation. He spent a month in the hospital in prison-like conditions, without the right to receive visits and without access to hot water.

After his release, he was told that two charges had been brought against him. One, inciting racial hatred in two political posts on his blog, is punishable by a fine and up to five years in prison. The other, disseminating pornographic content in the form of a collage illustrating a blog post, is punishable two to four years in prison.

Fearing an arbitrary trial, Palchys left Belarus for Ukraine in August 2015 but was arrested during a visit to Russia in January. Thereafter, the Russian authorities held him until his extradition.

We call for the conditional release of Eduard Palchys, whose preventive imprisonment is out of all proportion to what he is alleged to have done, said Johann Bihr, the head of RSFs Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

The posts and illustrations should be examined by independent entities, such as the Association of Belarusian Journalists. At the same time, Belarus legislation on media offences needs to evolve. The penalties that can be incurred, up to five years in prison, are utterly disproportionate.

The human rights group Vyasna filed a complaint on 14 June about the fact that Palchys lawyer had not yet been allowed to see him. The next day, the lawyer was allowed to see Palchys in the detention centre where he is being held.

No one has yet been allowed access to the original blog posts or the illustration, so no independent expert evaluation has so far been possible. A demonstration in support of Palchys was held in Minsk on 23 June.

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