Belarus Sentences Exiled Opposition Leader to 15 Years in Prison

A court in Belarus has sentenced the country’s main exiled opposition leader in absentia to 15 years in prison, the state news agency, Belta, said on Monday, as the government continues to clamp down on dissent following an election in 2020 whose results were widely derided as fraudulent.

The opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, fled the country after running for president in 2020 against Belarus’s authoritarian leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko. She has been based in neighboring Lithuania and continues to coordinate opposition to Belarus’s government from abroad.

The court in Minsk handed down the sentence for crimes including conspiracy to seize state power as well as creating and leading an extremist group, Belta reported. It said that the court had also sentenced another exiled opposition leader, Pavel P. Latushko, to 18 years in prison.

In a post on Twitter, Ms. Tsikhanouskaya — who had previously described the charges against her as a “farce” — played down the sentence and drew attention to opposition activists who have been imprisoned by authorities in Belarus.

“15 years of prison. This is how the regime ‘rewarded’ my work for democratic changes in Belarus,” she wrote. “I don’t think about my own sentence. I think about thousands of innocents, detained and sentenced to real prison terms.”

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya ran for president in place of her husband, Sergei Tsikhanousky, a popular blogger who was arrested in 2020 after declaring his own presidential run. He remains in prison in Belarus.

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994. When he was declared the winner of the 2020 election, months of mass protests followed. Human Rights Watch has since documented hundreds of cases in which protesters were detained and tortured.

The authoritarian leader is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, and Mr. Lukashenko’s government allowed Belarus to be a staging ground for Russian troops a year ago when they launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The sentencing of Ms. Tsikhanouskaya comes a week after Belarus sentenced Ales Bialiatski, a veteran human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October, to 10 years in prison, according to Viasna, the group that he helped found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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