A court in Belarus handed an 11-year jail sentence to Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition leader who inspired massive protests against President Alexander Lukashenko last year, state media reported.
Kolesnikova’s lawyer Maxim Znak was also sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a closed trial they were found guilty of threatening the “national security” of Belarus, founding an extremist group and conspiring to “seize power in an unconstitutional way.” There were widespread protests against Lukashenko following last year’s election. Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. Local and international observers described the ballot counting in the election as “non-transparent.”
Kolesnikova then stepped into the spotlight after previous Presidential hopefuly Viktor Babaryko was put in KGB prison. Kolesnikova protested alongside Veronika Tsepkalo and Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the wife of another jailed candidate and popular blogger Sergey Tikhanovsky
The three women campaigned across the country, with Tikhonovskaya running in her husband’s place and subsequently contesting Lukashenko’s claim to victory. Both Tikhonovskaya and Tsepkalo have since fled the country, and Kolesnikova is the only major protest leader remaining in Belarus. Kolesnikova refused to leave Belarus when agents attempted to deport her. She also tore up her passport.
“She was screaming that she would not go anywhere,” Kolesnikova’s colleague Anton Rodnenkov, who was also detained and deported to Ukraine, told Radio Liberty at the time. “As soon as she was in the car and saw her passport, she immediately tore it into many small pieces and threw out the window.” “After that, she climbed out of a window and walked towards the Belarusian border,” Rodnenkov added.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: YAHOO NEWS
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