Husband of Belarusian opposition leader jailed for 18 years after ‘political’ trial


The husband of a Belarusian opposition leader has been jailed for 18 years by a court in the country.

Siarhei Tsikhanouski was charged with organising mass unrest and inciting hatred, among other offences, in a case widely seen as politically motivated.

His sentence was announced on Tuesday, six months after his trial began behind closed doors.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks to migrants as he visits the transport and logistics centre Bruzgi on the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks to migrants on the Belarusian-Polish border
 Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya ran for president in 2020 after her husband was arrested

Mr Tsikhanouski, a prominent critic of Belarusia’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, was planning to run against the country’s long-time leader in the August 2020 presidential election.

But the popular video blogger and activist, widely known for his anti-Lukashenko slogan “Stop the cockroach”, was arrested two days after he announced his candidacy, in May 2020.

His wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, ran in his place, drawing tens of thousands of people to rally in her support during the campaign.

Official results of the vote handed the authoritarian Mr Lukashenko a landslide victory and a sixth term in office, but were rejected by the opposition and the West as a sham.

More on Alexander Lukashenko

The results triggered a months-long wave of unprecedented mass protests, the largest of which saw 200,000 people take to the streets of the capital Minsk.

Mr Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the demonstrators, arresting more than 30,000 and beating thousands more.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya participates in a demonstration organized by Friends of Belarus in Copenhagen, Denmark October 23, 2020. Emil Helms/ Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. DENMARK OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN DENMARK.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya demonstration in Copenhagen in 2020. Pic: Emil Helms/ Ritzau Scanpix
People flash the victory sign as they gather outside a church during a memorial service for Roman Bondarenko, an anti-government protester who died in hospital following what witnesses said was a severe beating by security forces, in Minsk, Belarus November 20, 2020. BelaPAN via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.
A memorial service for anti-government protester Roman Bondarenko, who died after what witnesses said was a severe beating by security forces, in Minsk

Ms Tsikhanouskaya fled the country to Lithuania a day after the vote under pressure from the authorities.

Other key opposition figures have also left the country, while some have ended up behind bars.

In recent months, pressure has mounted on Belarus’s non-governmental organisations, rights groups, activists and journalists, with authorities regularly conducting mass raids and detentions of those they suspect of supporting last year’s protests.

Mr Lukashenko, who has led the former Soviet state since 1994, is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Last week, the UK announced it was sending 140 soldiers to Poland and a small military team to Lithuania to help both countries deal with a migrant crisis on their respective borders with Belarus.

Blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky speaks during a rally of opposition supporters in Minsk
Syarhei Tsikhanouski at an opposition rally in Minsk

The EU has accused Belarus of encouraging migrants towards its borders in retaliation for sanctions over a crackdown on protests last year against Mr Lukashenko‘s contested re-election.

Earlier this month, the Foreign Office imposed new sanctions on Belarus over alleged human rights abuses, targeting eight Belarusian individuals “responsible for repression and human rights violations”.

An asset freeze has also been placed on one of the world’s largest potash fertiliser producers, OJSC Belaruskali.

The previous round of sanctions was brought in in August, over what ministers called Mr Lukashenko’s regime’s attempts to “crush democracy and violate human rights”.

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