Dec. 14 (UPI) — Six activists considered political prisoners by rights groups were convicted and sentenced Tuesday to as long as 18 years in prison in a Belarus court.
Among them was Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a popular blogger and the husband of exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The other activists drew 14- to 16-year prison sentences, confirmed by the regional court in the city of Gomel, The New York Times reported.
They were arrested in a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement by Belarusian security officials prior to the August 2020 presidential election.
Tsikhanouski turned his back on the judge as the sentences were being read. According to a courtroom witness, he later shouted “Long Live Belarus!”
The others sentenced were Mikalai Statkevich, Ihar Losik, Artsyom Sakau, Uladzimir Tsyganovich and Dmitry Popov.
The charges included organizing mass unrest and inciting social hatred as they politically challenged the authoritarian Lukashenko regime.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International said the politically motivated case against the activists resulted in a “scathing sentence” for Tsikhanouski.
Marie Struthers, AI’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said, “Syarhei Tsikhanouski’s case is emblematic of the repression unleashed by the Belarusian government against its own people. He was arrested on trumped-up riot charges just weeks after announcing his intention to run for the presidency.”
Tikhanouskaya ran for election in his place but was forced to leave Belarus after being harassed and intimidated by the authorities.
“This is today’s Belarus, where those who wish to oppose the authorities face a terrible choice between languishing in prison or leaving their homeland,” Struthers said.
Tikhanouskaya visited Washington, D.C., in July, seeking U.S. pressure on Lukashenko.
Earlier this month, the United States joined Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union in enacting new sanctions against Belarus for ongoing human rights abuses and inhumane exploitation of vulnerable people related to a migrant crisis at the border with Poland.