Belarus brings new charges against opposition leader's jailed husband

FILE PHOTO: Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Tsikhanouskaya leads Vilnius march

(Reuters) - Belarus brought new criminal charges against the jailed husband of the exiled opposition leader on Monday, accusing him of violating prison rules while serving an 18-year sentence, investigators said.

Syarhei Tsikhanouski, a 44-year-old video blogger who was arrested during an attempt to run for president against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, could have another two years added to his jail term under the new charges.

He rose to prominence in Belarus after comparing Lukashenko to a moustachioed cockroach from a children's fairy tale and was arrested before the 2020 presidential vote that sparked mass protests when Lukashenko claimed victory despite allegations of electoral fraud.

Tsikhanouski was convicted in December 2021 on charges of organising mass unrest and fuelling social enmity.

His wife, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, fled to Lithuania to escape the sweeping post-election crackdown that crushed the protests.

Tsikhanouski's lawyer could not be reached for comment about the new charges on Monday.

In a statement, the Investigative Committee, a law enforcement agency, accused Tsikhanouski of "provoking conflicts" in prison, including with his cell mates, and of systematically disobeying orders.

Rights activists estimate about 1,500 people are in jail in Belarus on politically motivated charges. Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is a pariah in the West and a close ally of Russia.

(Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Timothy Heritage)