: Belarus Court Gives Opposition Activists Lengthy Sentences #WorldNEWS KYIV, Ukraine — A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced two leading opposition activists to lengthy prison terms, the latest
Belarus Court Gives Opposition Activists Lengthy Sentences #WorldNEWS
KYIV, Ukraine — A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced two leading opposition activists to lengthy prison terms, the latest move in the relentless crackdown that Belarusian authorities have unleashed on dissent in the wake of last year’s anti-government protests.
Maria Kolesnikova, a top member of the opposition Coordination Council, has been in custody since her arrest last September. A court in Minsk found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for actions damaging state security and sentenced her to 11 years in prison.
Lawyer Maxim Znak, another leading member of the Coordination Council who faced the same charges, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
U. S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the convictions were unjust, adding “we call for their immediate, unconditional release and for that of all other political prisoners held by the Lukashenko regime. ” Western European officials also denounced the sentences.
Kolesnikova, who helped coordinate monthslong opposition protests that erupted after an August 2020 presidential vote, resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country.
Kolesnikova and Znak went on trial behind closed doors, with their families only allowed to be present at the sentencing hearing on Monday.
“For many, Maria has become an example of resilience and the fight between good and evil. Im proud of her,” Kolesnikovas father, Alexander, told The Associated Press on Monday. “Its not a verdict, but rather the revenge of the authorities. ”
Belarus was rocked by months of protests fueled by President Alexander Lukashenko’s being awarded a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Kolesnikova, 39, has emerged as a key opposition activist, appearing at political rallies and fearlessly walking up to lines of riot police and making her signature gesture — a heart formed by her hands. She spent years playing flute in the nation’s philharmonic orchestra after graduating from a conservatory in Minsk and studying Baroque music in Germany.
Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA pool photo via APBelarus opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova seen during a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.
In 2020, she headed the campaign of Viktor Babariko, the head of a Russian-owned bank who made a bid to challenge Lukashenko, but was barred from the race after being jailed on money laundering and tax evasion charges that he dismissed as political.
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