A court in Belarus sentenced the opposition leader's husband to 18 years in jail on Tuesday after he was arrested during an attempt to run for president against incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, a verdict his wife called political revenge.
The court found Sergei Tikhanovsky, a 43-year-old video blogger, guilty of organising mass unrest and of inciting social hatred, and handed him one of the longest jail terms in modern Belarusian history. His supporters said the charges were fabricated and politically motivated.
Mr Tikhanovsky, husband of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was arrested at an opposition protest in May 2020 after being barred from taking part in an election later that year which his wife contested instead.
He rose to prominence in Belarus after comparing Mr Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, to a moustachioed cockroach from a children’s fairy tale.
His jailing angered many Belarusians who went on to stage the biggest protests against Mr Lukashenko in post-Soviet history after what they said was a rigged presidential election, something Mr Lukashenko denied.
Tuesday’s sentencing is part of a pattern that has seen Mr Lukashenko, who is supported by Russia, use the courts and the police to systematically repress his opponents and critics by locking them up for long periods or forcing them abroad. It is one of the starkest examples of his decision to ignore sanctions and western condemnation in order to continue his crackdown.
"My husband . . . is sentenced to 18 years in prison," Ms Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania to escape the sweeping post-election crackdown by Mr Lukashenko, said on Twitter.
“The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents. While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won’t stop,” she wrote.
There was no immediate comment from Mr Lukashenko, whose crackdown on opponents and role in a stand-off over migrants with the European Union have triggered western sanctions against his country.
Five supporters of Mr Tikhanovsky were also tried along with him and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years on Tuesday. They also denied the charges against them.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken condemned the convictions and called for Mr Tikhanovsky’s immediate release, as well as the release of hundreds of other political prisoners.
“These sentences are further evidence of the regime’s disregard for these international obligations as well as for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Belarusians. The Belarusian people deserve better,” Mr Blinken said in a statement. – Reuters