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‘Their terms shouldn’t frighten us’: Activist and opposition leader sentenced in Belarus

Written by on 06/09/2021

Two of Belarus’s opposition figures who challenged the presidential elections in 2020 have been jailed for trying to threaten national security.

Maria Kolesnikova, 39, who was one of the leaders of mass street protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, the state-run Belta news agency said.

She was arrested in September after ripping up her passport, preventing Belarusian security forces from deporting her in a standoff at the Ukrainian border.

Maria Kolesnikova was on of the leaders of last year's protests against the elections, which they say was rigged
Image: Ms Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak were among leaders of last year’s protests against the elections, which they say was rigged

The musician-turned-politician was one of the faces of the mass opposition movement during last year’s election, which opposition leaders say was rigged to extend Mr Lukashenko’s presidency.

Ms Kolesnikova and another senior opposition figure, lawyer Maxim Znak, have been charged with extremism and trying to seize power illegally.

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Mr Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison at a court in Minsk.

Both deny any wrongdoing and Ms Kolesnikova called the charges absurd.

“Maria & Maksim are the heroes for Belarusians. The regime wants us to see them crushed & exhausted. But look – they are smiling & dancing,” said exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Twitter.

“They know – we will release them much earlier than these 11 years. Their terms shouldn’t frighten us – Maksim and Maria wouldn’t want this.”

The trial began last month but was not open to the public on national security grounds.

Maria Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday
Image: Ms Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday

Ms Kolesnikova is among thousands of people who have been detained after the protests began.

She was one of three women who joined forces to front last year’s protests against Mr Lukashenko after male candidates were prevented from standing against him.

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Victor Babariko, one of the men who tried to run in the election, was jailed for 14 years in July.

Mr Lukashenko, who has denied electoral fraud, has been in office since 1994 and has faced western sanctions since launching the crackdowns on his opponents.

 Sky News

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