Belarus Jails Opposition Leader For Challenging President Lukashenko
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – A court in Belarus has sentenced an opposition leader who wanted to run against the country’s autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko in elections to 18 years imprisonment.
Siarhei Tsikhanouski was found guilty Tuesday of “organizing mass unrest and inciting hatred,” charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Five other opposition activists were also sentenced to lengthy prison terms of 14 to 16 years alongside Tsikhanouski by the court in the southeastern city of Gomel, state media said.
Tsikhanouski, 43, planned to challenge Lukashenko in last year’s presidential vote after organizing a broad opposition movement partly through his popular video blogs. But he was detained before the elections.
His wife, political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, took on Lukashenko and claimed victory in the disputed poll. However, Lukashenko refused to step down with official results showing him winning despite allegations of massive fraud and intimidation.
Tikhanovskaya, who supporters say won the election but was forced into exile, expressed shock about the lengthy prison sentence her husband had received. “My husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, is sentenced to 18 years in prison. The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents,” she wrote on social networking site Twitter.
“While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he [Lukashenko] hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won’t stop,” she added in the comments monitored by Worthy News.
Her husband, Tsikhanouski, 43, was widely known for the anti-Lukashenko slogan “Stop the cockroach.” He was arrested in May 2020, two days after he declared his candidacy for president.
Another high-profile co-defendant in the case, 29-year-old Igor Losik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Tuesday.
Losik was detained in the summer of 2020 and accused of using his popular channel on messenger application Telegram to incite riots.
The three other co-defendants in the case were blogger Vladimir Tsyganovich and two activists linked to Tikhanovsky: Artyom Sakov and Dmitry Popov.
Tsyganovich received 15 years in prison, while Sakov and Popov were handed 16 years each, the court said.
The United States and the European Union condemned the sentences as unfounded and harsh.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that “We reiterate our call for the Lukashenko regime to end its crackdown on members of civil society, independent media, political opposition, athletes, students, legal professionals, and other Belarusians.”
EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said the “sentences are part of the ongoing brutal and systematic repression of all independent voices in Belarus.”
He stressed that the “EU strongly condemns these continued, flagrant violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Minsk regime.”
Calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners,” Stano warned that “the EU remains committed to consider further sanctions.”
Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, called the verdicts “scandalous” and called for the immediate release of Tikhanovsky and other activists.
“I’ve taken note of the scandalous verdicts against Sergei Tikhanovsky and others,” Baerbock said at a news conference while on a visit to Stockholm. “They disgrace the rule of law and international obligations of Belarus,” she added.
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