Belarus. Belarus sentences exiled opposition leader to 15 years in prison

TALLINN: A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison after a trial in absentia for plotting to overthrow the government, the latest step in a months-long effort by the Belarusian government to suppress dissent. Tsikhanouskaya ran against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, in an election that won him his sixth term and was widely seen as rigged. She called her conviction and sentence an act of revenge on the part of the Belarusian authorities and vowed to continue “fighting for freedom”.
The results of the vote sparked the biggest protests in the country’s history. Lukashenko unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters, accusing the opposition of plotting to overthrow the government, and Tsikhnouskaya left for Lithuania under pressure.
Other key politicians and activists have either been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Tsikhanouskaya and four other opposition figures were tried in their absence in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Photos from the courtroom, published by the Belarusian state news agency Belta, showed an empty defendant cage. The charges against them also included creating and leading an extremist group, inciting hatred and undermining national security.
Tsikhanouskaya told The Associated Press in an interview that her court-appointed attorney was not in contact with her once during the trial and did not respond to her requests to review the records.
She accused the law and the judiciary in Belarus of no longer functioning and the state “turned into a big KGB”.
“The regime is taking revenge on me and all Belarusians – it is taking revenge for the fact that we chose freedom in 2020, not to quit, not to give in, but to continue to fight,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
“If Lukashenko could have, he would have imprisoned everyone,” she added.
In addition to the prison sentence, Tsikhnaouskaya was ordered to pay a fine of around 11,000 USD. Another exiled opposition politician, Pavel Latushka, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Latushka, who once served as Belarus’ culture minister and then ambassador to several European countries, was also banned for five years from holding public office.
Maryya Maroz, Volha Kavalkova and Siarhei Dylevski were sentenced to 12 years in prison.
All left Belarus after protests erupted in August 2020. The protests were the largest and most sustained since Lukashenko took office in 1994. He has ruled the country with an iron fist ever since. His government unleashed a brutal crackdown on protesters, arresting more than 35,000 people and beating thousands.
The country’s most prominent human rights defender and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ales Bialiatski, was among those arrested. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week.
Tsikhanouskaya ran against Lukashenko instead of her husband, popular opposition politician Siarhei Tsikhanouski who was arrested midway through his campaign in 2020 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Last month, a Belarusian court added an additional 18 months to Tsikhanouski’s sentence for an alleged violation of prison rules.
Tsikhanouski maintained his innocence during the trial, which was held behind closed doors, according to the Viasna Human Rights Center, Belarus’ most prominent rights group. For two months, the politician was held “in inhumane conditions” in solitary confinement, the group said.
Viasna counted a total of 1,456 political prisoners in Belarus.
Tsikhanouskaya said the repression in Belarus is intensifying and every day 15 to 20 people in the country are imprisoned, which “shows how little confidence the regime has in itself”.
“If Lukashenko thinks that this imprisonment regime will stop me, stop Belarusians, he is wrong – we will continue to fight for freedom all the more actively,” she said.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

GreenLeaf Tw2sl