A court in Belarus has sentenced two main opposition activists to lengthy jail phrases, the most recent transfer within the relentless crackdown on dissent that Belarusian authorities unleashed within the wake of final yr’s anti-government protests.
Maria Kolesnikova, a prime member of the opposition Coordination Council, has been in custody since her arrest final September. A court in Minsk on Monday discovered her responsible of conspiring to grab energy, creating an extremist organisation and calling for actions damaging state safety and sentenced her to 11 years in jail.
Lawyer Maxim Znak, one other main member of the Coordination Council who confronted the identical fees, was sentenced to 10 years in jail.
A video from contained in the courtroom on Monday confirmed the handcuffed pair grinning within the defendant’s cage earlier than the ruling.
Kolesnikova and Znak went on trial behind closed doorways, with their households solely allowed to be current on the sentencing listening to.
“For many, Maria has become an example of resilience and the fight between good and evil. I’m proud of her,” Kolesnikova’s father, Alexander, advised The Associated Press on Monday. “It’s not a verdict, but rather the revenge of the authorities.”
Key opposition activists
According to rights group Viasna, there have been 659 political prisoners in Belarus as of Monday, together with Znak and Kolesnikova.
Belarus was rocked by months of protests fuelled by President Alexander Lukashenko’s being awarded a sixth time period after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He responded to the demonstrations with an enormous crackdown that noticed greater than 35,000 folks arrested and 1000’s overwhelmed by police.
Kolesnikova, 39, who helped coordinate the opposition protests, had resisted authorities’ makes an attempt to pressure her to depart the nation.
In September 2020, Belarusian KGB brokers drove Kolesnikova to the border between Belarus and Ukraine in an try to expel her. In the impartial zone between the 2 international locations, Kolesnikova managed to tear up her passport, broke out of the automotive and walked again into Belarus, the place she was instantly arrested.
A key opposition activist, she appeared at quite a few political rallies and fearlessly walked as much as traces of riot police and making her signature gesture – a coronary heart fashioned by her fingers. She spent years taking part in flute within the nation’s philharmonic orchestra after graduating from a conservatory in Minsk and learning Baroque music in Germany.
Kolesnikova joined forces with former English trainer Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was operating instead of her jailed husband Sergei, an opposition blogger, as the primary candidate standing towards Lukashenko, and Veronika Tsepkalo, spouse of one other potential prime contender who had fled the nation fearing arrest.
The three appeared collectively at vibrant marketing campaign occasions that have been in stark distinction to Lukashenko’s Soviet-style gatherings.
Shortly after the election, Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus underneath stress from the authorities and is at the moment in exile in Lithuania.
Just earlier than the beginning of her trial final month, Kolesnikova stated in a word from jail that authorities supplied to launch her from custody if she requested for a pardon and gives a repentant interview to state media. She insisted that she was harmless and rejected the supply.
Condemnation from Western officers
Western officers denounced the sentences, with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying the act “shows the Belarusian authorities continuing their assault on the defenders of democracy and freedom”.
“Locking up political opponents will only deepen the pariah status of the Lukashenko regime,” Raab stated.
In a press release, the United States additionally denounced the jail sentences.
“The United States condemns the politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing today of Belarusian opposition figures Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak,” a State Department assertion learn.
“Regrettably, these sentencings are further evidence of the regime’s total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus,” the assertion learn, calling for an finish to the “campaign of repression”.
In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano stated that “the EU … reiterates its demands for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus.”
The verdicts are “a symbol of the ruthless methods, the repression and intimidation by the Belarusian regime of opposition politicians and civil society”, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Andrea Sasse stated in Berlin.
Amnesty International referred to as the decision arbitrary, and stated the ruling was “designed to crush the hopes” of a technology of Belarusians.