2021-12-14
Siarhei Tsikhanouski, archive image.

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Belarusian blogger and thwarted presidential candidate Siarhei Tsikhanouski was sentenced to 18 years in maximum security prison. His associates Artsiom Sakau and Dzmitry Papou were sentenced to 16 years, journalists Ihar Losik and Uladzimir Tsyhanovich to 15 years, and opposition leader Mikalai Statkevich was sentenced to 14 years in a special regime prison.

The accusations included “organizing mass riots associated with armed resistance”, “inciting social hatred” and “obstructing the work of the Central Election Commission.” The court sessions were held behind closed doors, and the defendants’ lawyers were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Thus, all the details of the process remained hidden from the public. The brutal court decision is unprecedented even against the background of the high-profile cases of Viktor Babariko and Maria Kolesnikova with similarly draconian sentences.

“The dictator publicly takes revenge on his most powerful opponents. By hiding political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue the repression in silence, but the whole world is watching. We will not stop, ” said Tsikhanouski’s wife, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

EU and US politicians, including Anthony Blinken, Annalena Baerbock and Mateusz Morawiecki, strongly condemned the huge prison sentences and called for the immediate and unconditional release of more than 900 political prisoners. Vice President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola wrote: “Europe will not turn its back. The world will not close its eyes to what is happening. Lukashenko will be held accountable. Belarus will be free.”