Ukrainian journalist jailed in Belarus for eight years

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A DRC press freedom body on Wednesday called for the "immediate release" of a journalist detained on defamation allegations.

KIEV - A Ukrainian public radio journalist has been jailed for at least eight years in Belarus for being a secret service agent in Kiev, the Ukrainian government told AFP Wednesday.

"Pavlo Sharoiko has been sentenced to more than eight years in prison in Belarus," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa told AFP, without specifying what he was found guilty of or when the verdict was announced.

"We are monitoring his situation closely and ensuring that his rights are protected," added Betsa.

No information could be obtained immediately from the Belarussian authorities.

Sharoiko, a correspondent in Minsk for Radio Ukraine International since 2011, has been detained in Belarus since October 2017.

According to Betsa, Sharoiko is being held in a KGB prison in Belarus and has been visited by a Ukrainian consul.

The Belarussian KGB, which has kept its name from the Soviet era, accused him of "setting up a spy ring" of Belarussian citizens who were paid to transmit military and political information.

Kiev rejected the accusations. According to the intelligence service from the Ukrainian defence ministry, Sharoiko had been the spokesman for this service until 2009 before leaving his post for medical reasons, resuming his job as a journalist.

Belarus is a former Soviet republic led by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994 and is an ally of Russia. 

Minsk has distanced itself from Russia since the start of a Moscow-backed insurgency in April 2014 which followed Russia&39;s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, leaving 10,000 people dead.