Showing restraint, Belarus to release anti-Russian blogger: rights group

October 28, 2016 7:04 AM EDT

Alexander and Antonina Palchis stand outside a court building during the court hearing of their son Edward in Minsk, Belarus, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko


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By Andrei Makhovsky

MINSK (Reuters) - A Belarussian blogger known for his criticism of Russian foreign policy will be released next month after spending 10 months in prison on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and disseminating pornography, a rights group said.

Edward Palchis was arrested in January in Russia and extradited to Belarus. His trial began on Oct 14.

Human rights campaigners said Palchis, who is known under the pseudonym "John Silver", was targeted for criticizing Russian foreign policy, its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and role in the east Ukrainian separatist conflict.

The Minsk City Court sentenced him to one year and nine months of a "restriction of freedom" on Friday but taking into account the time he had already served in jail, said he would be released next month, the rights group Spring 96 told Reuters.

"He will serve the remaining month of his sentence under house arrest," Spring 96's representative Valentin Stefanovic told Reuters.

"We welcome the fact that the authorities have shown restraint."

Seeking to improve ties with the West, authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko last year pardoned several political prisoners, prompting the European Union to lift five years of sanctions against the country once called 'Europe's last dictatorship' by the United States.

Belarus, which is seeking up to $3.4 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund and EU investment, has also tried to stick to neutral ground over the Ukraine crisis. It has not recognized the annexation of Crimea and regularly hosts peace talks.

The charges against Palchis relate to an online article he wrote in April 2015 in which he reposted xenophobic, lewd and violent memes about Belarus from a Russian social media website to illustrate his argument against Russian internet policy.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Angus MacSwan)



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