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Belarusian authorities open criminal case against creators of opposition Telegram channel ‘Nexta’

The Belarusian Investigative Committee has announced a criminal case against opposition blogger Stepan Putilo (Stsiapan Putsila), the creator of the Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live, and the platform’s former chief-editor Roman Protasevich. The two stand accused of organizing “the mass riots that have been taking place in Minsk since August 9 and continuing up to the present day.” 

Belarusian state investigators are also bringing criminal charges against Putilo and Protasevich for inciting social hatred against government and law enforcement officials.

“In the course of studying the information posted on the indicated Telegram channels, the investigation recorded and added to the criminal case materials repeated evidence of calls for protests, blocking roads, strikes, coordinating unauthorized mass [at] specific locations, as well as travel routes,” the Investigative Committee’s statement says.

Putilo and Protasevich have both been added to international wanted lists in Belarus, as well as Russia.

In October, a Minsk court declared the Telegram channel Nexta and its logo “extremist materials,” on the grounds that videos posted on the channel included public calls for mass riots. This court ruling means that the authorities now limit access to Nexta in Belarus and reposting information from these channels is punishable by an administrative fine. 

Nexta is the most well-known Belarusian opposition resource. It gained massive popularity amid the protests that emerged following the contested presidential elections on August 9. Nexta’s administrators run the platform out of Warsaw. The platform has two main Telegram channels: Nexta Live, which has 1.8 million subscribers, and Nexta, which has 865,000. Nexta’s team also runs a satirical channel called Luxta, which boasts nearly 200,000 followers.

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