Two journalists in Belarus have been convicted of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison after they covered a protest against the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Katsiaryna Andreyeva, 27, and Darya Chultsova, 23, both of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel, were detained in November in an apartment they had been using as a vantage point to livestream demonstrations over the death of a protester.

Both women, who pleaded not guilty, appeared in a cage at the hearing on Thursday, hugging and making “V” for victory signs. Their lawyer said they would appeal the verdict.

“Just look at Darya and Katsiaryna – strong, smiling, and saying goodbyes to their loved ones through bars. Lukashenka can’t break us,” the exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

Neighbouring Lithuania, where Tsikhanouskaya is based, urged Minsk to end a “spiral of repression”. Poland said in a statement the action would have “very serious consequences”. Belsat was set up in Poland by Belarusian and Polish journalists to cover Belarus.

The EU foreign affairs spokesperson Peter Stano condemned the “shameful crackdown on media”.

More than 33,000 people have been detained in a violent crackdown on protests against Lukashenko’s rule following a contested election last August that his opponents say was rigged to extend his rule. He has been in office since 1994.

The crackdown prompted western countries to impose new sanctions on Minsk, but Lukashenko has refused to step down, buttressed by support from Moscow, which sees Belarus as a buffer state between it and the EU and Nato.

“Every time I went to work, I risked my health and life,” Andreyeva had said in a statement earlier. “I managed to hide from rubber bullets, explosions of stun grenades, blows from truncheons. My colleagues were much less fortunate. I have everything: youth, a job that I love, fame, and most importantly, a clear conscience.”

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The journalists were filming protests after the death of Roman Bondarenko, who died in hospital aged 31 after what protesters say was a severe beating by security forces. The interior ministry denied responsibility.

Lukashenko has mixed promises of reform with a renewed crackdown this week, with police raiding the homes of journalists and rights activists and one of the president’s main electoral opponents put on trial for corruption.

A separate trial begins on Friday of a journalist from the local outlet TUT.BY who contradicted the government’s assertion that Bondarenko had been drunk at the time of his death.

Asked about Thursday’s verdict, the Belarusian information minister, Igor Lutsky, said the court would not have made its ruling unless it was justified.



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