Closed trial begins for Belarus opposition leader’s husband

International
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels, Tuesday, June 22, 2021. Tsikhanouskaya says President Alexander Lukashenko may have miscalculated last month by diverting a Ryanair passenger jet to Minsk, where a dissident journalist aboard was arrested. The exiled novice politician says the incident has galvanized the West against Lukashenko, who had “never crossed this red line before.” (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A closed trial for the husband of Belarus’ opposition leader began Thursday at a jail in the city of Gomel. Siarhei Tsikhanouski faces a sentence of up to 15 years on charges that include organizing mass unrest and inciting hatred.

Tsikhanouski, a prominent video blogger and activist, aimed to run against authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in the August 2020 election. He was widely known for the anti-Lukashenko slogan “Kill the cockroach.” He was arrested two days after he declared his candidacy that May.

His wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, ran in his stead. She fled the country to Lithuania a day after the election as police cracked down on post-election protests.

Official results said Lukashenko won a sixth term in office, continuing his repressive rule that began in 1994, but protesters said the results were fradulent. Large protests continued for months and police responded harshly, detaining 30,000 people and beating many of them.

State media showed a tired-looking Tsikhanouski being led into the closed hearing, along with other defendants who include Mikola Statkevich, who ran against Lukashenko in 2010 and was sentenced to six years in prison after demonstrations broke out following that election. Statkevich was arrested again in May 2020.

In a video message on Thursday, Tsikhanouskaya said her husband “remains the same proud and unshakable person” despite more than a year in detention.

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