MINSK, Belarus: Belarusian opposition leader Sergei Tikhanovsky, who participated in mass protests against disputed leader Alexander Lukashenko, has been jailed for 18 years.
In proceedings widely condemned as a show trial, Tikhanovsky, 43, who planned to challenge Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, was convicted of organising riots, among other charges.
His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, ran instead against Lukashenko, who claimed to win the widely discredited election.
Tikhanovskaya, who was forced into exile with her children in Lithuania due to fears for her safety, issued a statement questioning the validity of the court that tried her husband.
The U.S. and Germany also condemned the verdicts against Tikhanovsky and other opposition figures.
In a tweet, Tikhanovskaya, 39, said, “While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials.(Lukashenko) hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world is watching. We will not stop.”
Belarusian state news agency Belta said the verdict was delivered at a court in the south-eastern city of Gomel.
State newspaper Sovetskaya Belarus said five other opposition figures, tried alongside Tikhanovsky, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said she was appalled by the “scandalous verdicts.”
“The repression of individuals by Belarus” was also condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the European Union.
Lukashenko has been president of Belarus since 1994, but his re-election as president last year has not been recognized by Western countries.
BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg asked Lukashenko, in an interview in Minsk last month, how many political prisoners were jailed in Belarus.
“We have no political crimes in law. We have no crimes that we have prosecuted under. These are people who have broken Belarusian law,” Lukashenko said.
The crackdown has severely strained relations between Belarus and the EU, which has imposed tough sanctions and accused Belarus of orchestrating a migrant crisis on its eastern borders in response to sanctions.