Belarus sentences exiled opposition leader to 15 years

A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison after a trial in absentia on charges including conspiring to overthrow the government, the latest move in a months-long effort by the Belarusian government to suppress dissent. Tsikhanouskaya ran against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in Aug. 2020, in an election that handed him his sixth term in office and was widely seen as rigged. She called her conviction and sentence an act of vengeance by Belarusian authorities and vowed to continue to “fight for freedom.” The results of the vote triggered the largest protests in the country’s history. Lukashenko unleashed a brutal crackdown on demonstrators, accusing the opposition of plotting to overthrow the government, and Tsikhnouskaya left to Lithuania under pressure. Other key politicians and activists were either arrested or pressured to leave the country. Tsikhanouskaya and four other opposition figures were tried in their absence in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Photos from the courtroom, released by Belarus’ state news agency Belta, showed an empty defendants’ cage. The charges against them also included creating and leading an extremist group, inciting hatred and harming national security.