Alexander Lukashenko’s 13-month intensive crackdown continued on Monday, with two prominent opposition activists sentenced to multiple years in prison.
Maria Kolesnikova, the driving force behind the women’s triumvirate, which is likely to have defeated a long-standing dictatorship in the August 2020 presidential election, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Her colleague, lawyer Maxim Zanac, has been awarded for 10 years.
Both were charged with undermining Belarus’ national security, but their exact accusations were kept secret to the end, as were the trials and verdicts themselves.
Given the current political atmosphere and Belarus’ 99.7% conviction rate, the conviction was a natural conclusion. However, Judge Sergei Efihoff provided a small surprise by reducing the verdict in a slightly shorter period than the twelve years when state prosecutors initially sought both.
The discount may reflect Lukashenko’s pressure to show signs of amnesty. Alternatively, it may represent an unpredictable dictator’s desire for people to keep guessing.
Kolesnikova and Znak have been detained since they were arrested last September. Both started the election cycle as part of the Victor Baba Rico presidential election team, but the June 2020 arrest of a former banker made the charismatic campaign manager Kolesnikova stand out.
Ms. Kolesnikova was the engine behind the joint election platform with the wives of two other candidates, Veronika Tsepkalo and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The three campaign teams have united behind President Tihanovskaya’s bid to provide Belarusians with the opportunity to start a new woman.
Judging from an independent poll conducted on election day, the Belarusians accepted the overwhelming majority of prospects. At the event, 26-year-old dictator Lukashenko claimed his own landslide victory.
By the time she was robbed from the street, Ms. Tihanovskaya and Ms. Tsepkaro had fled the country, and the charismatic Kolesnikova was the most famous face of the opposition. Her stock grew in a democratic circle after it became clear that she resisted being forcibly taken out of the country by tearing her passport at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the imprisoned opposition activists have announced that they will appeal the verdict.
“This ruling is illegal, unjust and not evidence-based,” said lawyer Yefgeny Pilchenko. “The trial did not confirm their guilt or the crime they were supposed to have committed.”