06 March 2023

Belarus sentences exiled opposition leader to 15 years in prison

06 March 2023

A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison after a trial in absentia on charges including conspiring to overthrow the government.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya and four other opposition figures are being tried in their absence in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

They also face charges of creating and leading an extremist group, inciting hatred and harming national security.

All five left Belarus following the unprecedented mass protests that erupted in 2020 after authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko secured his sixth term in office in a disputed election.

The opposition and the West have denounced the vote as rigged.

The demonstrations that followed were the largest and the most sustained since Lukashenko assumed office in 1994.

His government unleashed a brutal crackdown against the protesters, detaining more than 35,000 and beating thousands.

The country’s most prominent human rights advocate and the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ales Bialiatski, was among those arrested. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison last week.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya ran against Mr Lukashenko instead of her husband, popular opposition politician Siarhei Tsikhanouski, who was arrested in the middle of his campaign in 2020 and has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Last month, a court in Belarus added 18 more months to Tsikhanouski’s sentence over alleged violations of prison regulations.

Tsikhanouski maintained his innocence during the trial that was held behind closed doors, according to the Viasna human rights centre, Belarus’ most prominent rights group.

For two months, the politician was held “in inhumane conditions” in an isolation cell, the group said.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox