A verdict in absentia. Belarus jails opposition Olympic swimmer for 12 years

The Belarusian judiciary handed down a 12-year prison sentence in in absentia against Aliaksandra Herasemenya, a former Olympic swimmer and anti-President Alexander Lukashenko activist, on charges of “forming an extremist organization,” a human rights organization announced on Monday.

The “Viasna” organization said that a court in Minsk handed down this ruling in in absentia against Herasemenia (36 years old) at the end of a trial that began on 19 December.

Hirasemenya, who won silver and bronze medals at the Olympic Games (2012 and 2016), retired from the sport in 2019 and has been living ever since in exile, where he founded a human rights organization that opposes President Lukashenko.

Viasna added, in a statement on its site webthat the court also convicted the former swimmer of “calling for sanctions against Belarus” and “publishing false information about the events” that shook the country in 2020.

In 2020, Belarus witnessed unprecedented protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

In the midst of these protests, Herasemenya, along with other athletes from his country, signed an open letter calling for “free elections”. You also founded the “Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation”, an organization that provides financial and legal assistance to Belarusian athletes persecuted by the authorities.

However, the Belarusian authorities hastened to consider this organization an “extremist organization”.

In April 2021, Herasemenya auctioned off the gold medal she won at the 2012 World Aquatics Championships. That day, the medal was sold for €13,500, with this amount going to support opposition athletes.

On the other hand, the “Viasna” organization has announced in a separate statement that a union official named Alexander Yaroshuk was sentenced on Monday to 4 years in prison on charges of “serious disturbance of public order” in 2020.

For more than two years, the Belarusian authorities have been waging a relentless campaign of repression, as a result of which the overwhelming majority of opposition figures in the country are in prison or in exile.

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