Belarusian Court Sentences Opposition Politician, Pro-Democracy Activists
By RFE/RL's Belarus Service May 25, 2021
MAHILYOU, Belarus -- Belarusian opposition politician Paval Sevyarynets has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a regional court in the eastern city of Mahilyou on a criminal charge of "organizing mass unrest."
Six pro-democracy activists and bloggers also received prison sentences ranging from four to seven years on similar charges in connection with unsanctioned political and civic activities.
They include European Belarus civil campaign activists Maksim Vinyarski, Andrey Voynich, Paval Yukhnevich, and Yauhen Afnahel, as well as Telegram channel administrator Iryna Shchasnaya and blogger Dzmitry Kazlou.
All have been recognized by international human rights groups as political prisoners.
The sentences, issued by Judge Iryna Lanchava on May 25 following a two-week trial behind closed doors, are the latest in a series of Belarusian court rulings that have accompanied a brutal crackdown directed by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka against his political opponents.
Unlike the trial, the 15-minute sentencing hearing on May 25 was opened to relatives of the defendants and to journalists, though they were not allowed to record the judge reading out the sentences.
RFE/RL's Belarus service reported that after Judge Lanchava delivered her ruling, the accused chanted from within the defendants' cage: "Belarus will be free!"
Sevyarynets declared that "there was no trial." He also led a chant with the other defendants: "We believe! We can! We will win!"
Sevyarynets, a co-chairman of the unregistered opposition Belarusian Christian Democracy party, was one of dozens of activists and politicians during opposition rallies last June in Minsk and other cities across Belarus.
He and others at those rallies had been collecting signatures ahead of the August 2021 Belarusian presidential election in order to register candidates to run against the authoritarian incumbent.
Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, was declared as the winner. But the official vote tally was widely viewed as being rigged in his favor.
Thousands of citizens have taken to the streets since then to protest the results. They say Lukashenka's challenger, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, actually won the vote.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus for Lithuania shortly after the election for security reasons.
Lukashenka's postelection crackdown has resulted in some 30,000 arrests along with widespread allegations of torture -- with hundreds beaten and several people killed.
Journalists covering the anti-Lukashanka street demonstrations also have been targeted in the crackdown.
Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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