Belarus seeks lengthy prison terms for opposition leaders
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarusian authorities on Monday demanded lengthy prison terms for the country's exiled opposition leaders, amid a continued crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet republic.
Prosecutors demanded 19-year prison sentences for Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Pavel Latushka, as well as fines of $15,000 and $10,000 respectively.
Tsikhanouskaya, Latushka and three other opposition figures are being tried in absentia in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government, creating and leading an extremist group, inciting hatred and harming national security.
The prosecution also sought 12-year sentences for Maryya Maroz, Volha Kavalkova and Siarhei Dylevski.
“It has nothing to do with justice, it is just personal revenge against me (and) others who are opposing the regime. It will only make us fight even harder,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a tweet on Monday.
All five left Belarus following the unprecedented mass protests 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. He has run the country with an iron fist ever since. 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 is facing 12 years in prison if convicted.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus under pressure from the authorities shortly after the election, in which she ran against Lukashenko instead of her husband, well-known opposition politician Siarhei Tsikhanouski. Tsihkanouski was arrested in 2020 and has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.
On Monday, 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 center, Belarus' most prominent human rights group. For two months, the politician was held “in inhumane conditions” in an isolation cell, the group said.
“I'm really looking forward to a time when we free Siarhei and all political prisoners from this hell,” Tsikhanouskaya said in an online statement Monday.
The Viasna group has designated 1,443 people behind bars in Belarus as political prisoners.
Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press