Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak in the courtroom.

Today, 6 September 2021, the verdict has been announced in the case of political prisoners Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak. The court sentenced Maria Kalesnikava to 11 years in a general regime colony and Maksim Znak to 10 years in a maximum security colony. They were found guilty under three articles of the Criminal Code: Part 1 of Article 357 (conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means), Part 3 of Article 361 (calling for the seizure of power or actions that harm national security), and Part 1 of Article 361-1 (creating or leading an extremist group).

Мария Колесникова и Максим Знак были ключевыми фигурами команды Виктора Бабарико во время президентской предвыборной кампании 2020 года. После того как Бабарико был арестован, Максим Знак и Мария Колесникова продолжили активную деятельность в объединенном штабе Светланы Тихановской, а позднее вошли в президиум Координационного совета. Координационный совет призывал к широкому общественному диалогу и проведению повторных президентских выборов. Сейчас большинство членов совета находятся под арестом или в вынужденной эмиграции.

Maria Kalesnikava was taken into custody on 8 September 2020. The day before, security forces abducted her in downtown Minsk and tried to forcibly deport her from the country, but Maria tore up her passport at the Belarus-Ukraine border.

On 9 September 2020, Maksim Znak was arrested. He was accused of inciting action aimed at harming national security. As a sign of disagreement with the charges, Maksim went on a hunger strike and held it for more than a week.

“The regime would really like to see Maksim and Maria crushed and exhausted. But we see our heroes strong and free inside. They will be released much earlier,” opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya commented on the verdict.

The European Union and German, Austrian and British authorities strongly condemned the prison sentences handed down to Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak and demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners in Belarus.

“The EU reiterates its demands for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus (there are now more than 650 of them), including Ms Kalesnikava and Mr Znak, journalists and all the people who are behind bars for exercising their rights,” the EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement.

The German government also criticized the Belarusian authorities in connection with the Kalesnikava and Znak’s verdicts. “Berlin considers these sentences emblematic of the ruthless actions, repression and intimidation carried out by the Belarusian regime against opposition politicians and civil society,” Deutsche Welle quotes Andrea Sasse, a spokeswoman with the German Foreign Ministry.

“The sentencing of Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak shows that the Belarusian authorities are continuing their assault on the defenders of democracy and freedom. The Lukashenko regime must end this repression and release all political prisoners,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

“The regime in Belarus has hit a new low with today’s verdict in the case of Maria Kalesnikava. We demand her immediate and unconditional release. We will continue to support those who are fighting for a free, democratic and independent Belarus,” reads the statement by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.