Belarus opposition leader sentenced to 11 years in Jail

MOSCOW—A Belarusian Court on Monday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova, a leading opposition figure who last year tried to run for chairman, to an 11-year prison sentence, another sign that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko pursues unremitting action on dissent after a heavily contested election.

Mrs. Kolesnikova and her colleague, Maksim Znak, a lawyer, were charged with extremism, conspiracy to seize power illegal and harmful to state security. The trial was held in the capital Minsk, behind closed doors, and neither the investigators nor the witnesses were made public. Both defendants denied the offense and said the verdict was politically motivated.

Mr Znak, who like Mrs. Kolesnikova is a leading member of a coordinating council organized by opponents of Mr Lukashenko, got a 10year sentence in An maximum secure penal colony.

“This verdict is illegal and unfounded,” the couple’s lawyer Yevgeny Pylchenko said. die announced an appeal. “It’s not based on on proof. During the trial, neither their fault, nor even the commission of imputed crimes, was confirmed.”

Mrs. Kolesnikova became one of Belarus’ Most Prominent Opposition Leaders last year when she decided to run to a prominent banker, Viktor Babariko, whose campaign she succeeded, was not allowed to run and thrown in jail. She finally threw her support behind Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who entered the race after her husband, a prominent video blogger, was also arrested and banned from flight.

Denounced in an election by opponents and the West as a sham, Mr Lukashenko claimed to have won a sixth consecutive term in August 2020, setting off months of protest. He has exercised strong control over Belarus since first get the presidency in 1994, including over the judicial power.

“Today our courts have not pass most basic test,” Aleksandr Kolesnikov, Mrs. Kolesnikova’s father, told journalists and supporters outside the court. He said the verdict was a “signal” that the government had no intention of changing his approach to die who disagree with the.

Mrs. Kolesnikova, 39, was a flutist and cultural curator who studied baroque music in Stuttgart, Germany, before returning to Minsk to set up a cultural center and participate in politics. Mr. Znak, 40, is a prominent arbitration lawyer who ever lived in Oklahoma as a student.

Last year, Ms. Kolesnikova focused on with Mrs. Tikhanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo, whose husband, Valery, had also was excluded from the vote and fled Belarus before Election Day. Rejected by the dictator as ‘poor things’, the three women white and red donned outfits, draw tens of thousands of supporters to their election rallies.

In the days after the disputed vote, Mrs. Tikhanovskaya and Mrs. Tsepkalo both went abroad in dark circumstances. Mrs. Kolesnikova was kidnapped by masked men on Sept 8 last year and brought to the border of the land with Ukraine, but she resisted attempts to forcibly deport her rip up her passport, to jump out of the car she was in, and walking back on Belarusian territory.

“We demand the immediate release of Mary & Maksim, who are not guilty of whatever,” Mrs. Tikhanovskaya, who turned out to be opposition leader in banishment and live now in Lithuania, wrote on Twitter. “To be terror against Belarusians who dare to stand up to the regime.”

Despite 11 months behind bars, Mrs. Kolesnikova has tried to project an indomitable spirit, die sends positive letters from prison for relatives and supporters. When she appeared in court of law on Monday morning, in a glass cage with Mr. Znak, she twisted her handcuffed hands around the… shape of a heart, one of her trademark posts during the campaign last summer.

In the days before her trial began last month, Mrs. Kolesnikova that the authorities offered to negotiate over her release from custody if she asked for a pardon of repented on state television. She said she declined the offer because she was innocent.

new one in addition, the lawyers could be present when Ms Kolesnikova and Mr Znak made their closing remarks last week. But according to the assistants of Mr. Babariko, whose… campaign Mrs. Kolesnikova succeeded, she spoke at length over “moral choice, conscience, respect and love” for people” and shouted for the rule of law die has to be done in her country.

“Regardless of how the word ‘democracy’ sounds on television, one can’t ignore what’s there over our country is written in the Constitution,” she reportedly said.

an estimated tens of thousands of opposition supporters have fled Belarus after the crackdown that began last year. The government’s campaign of retaliation has only intensified in die time. In May, authorities scrambled a fighter jet to bring down a plane met a prominent blogger, Roman Protasevich, and then detained him. The authorities arrested graduated in the rights after she gave a graduation address in July call on respect for the rule of law.

And in august, the government athletes banned from participating in sporty events in abroad after a 24-houryear-old sprinter criticized her coaches at this summer’s Olympics, what a international scandal.

“The Persecution and Captivity” of Maria Kolesnikova and Maksim Znak are meant to destroy the hope of millions of people on whose name they spoke – a whole generation of Belarusians who strive for ensure so peaceful changes to take place in their country and that human rights are respected in it,” Bruce Millar, deputy director of Amnesty International for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said: in a statement.

Read More: World News


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