Belarus regional court sentences opposition activists

The Minsk Regional Court on Monday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of mass street protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year and a top member of the opposition Coordination Council, to 11 years in prison.

Kolesnikova was accused and found guilty of a conspiracy committed with the aim of seizing state power by unconstitutional means⁠—that is, of committing a crime under Part 1 of Article 357 of the Criminal Code, creating an extremist organization and calling for actions damaging state security. Lawyer Maxim Znak, another leading member of the Coordination Council, faced the same charge and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Belarus has been faced with months of protests fueled by Lukashenko being awarded a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote. The US, Canada, UK and EU have condemned Lukashenko’s regime, announcing the imposition of sanctions in June for its “continuing attacks on human rights, fundamental freedoms, and international law.”

Countries of the West have since denounced Kolesnikova’s verdict, with Britain’s foreign minister calling it an assault on defenders of democracy and the EU calling for her immediate release. An EU spokesperson said in a statement that, “the EU deplores the continuous blatant disrespect by the Minsk regime of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “the United States condemns the politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing today of Belarusian opposition figures Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak.”

The verdict has not yet entered legal force and can be appealed and protested to the judicial collegium for criminal cases of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus through the Minsk Regional Court.