Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was found guilty in her absence of treason and plotting to take power. She was given a 15-year prison sentence, which she says is a punishment for her work to promote democracy.
Tsikhanouskaya, a 40-year-old former English teacher, ran against the president, Alexander Lukashenko, in 2020. Lukashenko won the election by a huge margin, and Tsikhanouskaya ran away to neighbouring Lithuania.
At the time, she and the opposition said that the results had been changed to give Lukashenko the win. Angry about the official results, many people took to the streets to protest.
Lukashenko, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, brutally put down protesters after accusing them of trying to overthrow the government. Key members of the opposition and activists were jailed, and some of them left the country.
Belarus has been run by Lukashenko for almost 30 years. During the large protests, more than 35,000 people were locked up by his government.
In January, Tsikhanouskaya, who was the real leader of the opposition, was put on trial even though she wasn’t there. She and other opposition leaders were accused of trying to take power in an unconstitutional way.
Belta, the state news agency, said that Tsikhanouskaya was sentenced to 15 years in a prison camp by a court in Minsk on Monday.
Pavel Latushko, a well-known member of the Belarusian opposition council, was given 18 years in prison by the same court that gave three other activists 12 years each for being part of the same plot, Belta said.
After the protests began in August 2020, they all left Belarus.
“15 years behind bars. “This is how the regime “paid” me for my work to make Belarus more democratic,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.
She said, “But today I don’t think about my own sentence.” “I think about the thousands of innocent people who have been locked up and given real prison sentences. I won’t stop until they’re all free.”