Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sentenced to 15 years in prison

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya sentenced to 15 years in prison

A Belarusian court has sentenced the country's leading opposition figure, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in exile, to 15 years in prison.

According to the state news agency, Belta, and the human rights organisation, Viasna, another prominent opponent, Pavel Latushko, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Three other people were sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Tikhanovskaya responded quickly, vowing to continue her struggle and political activities. She labelled the trial a "farce".

"Today I don't think about my own sentence. I am thinking of thousands of innocents, detained and those sentenced to real prison terms," she said on Twitter. "I will not stop until each of them is released."

Tsikhanouskaya was charged with 12 crimes, including "conspiracy to take power unconstitutionally.

Increasing crackdown on opposition

The new sentences come against a backdrop of accelerated repression in Belarus, a former Soviet republic ruled with an iron fist for three decades by Alexander Lukashenko.

On Friday, activist Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize and a leading figure in the Belarusian democracy movement, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Unlike Ms Tikhanovskaya, he is still in Belarus, where he has been imprisoned since 2021.

Tsikhanouskaya originally shot to prominence after running in Belarus' disputed presidential election in 2020, which was marred by massive fraud according to observers.

Protesters march during an opposition rally in Minsk, Belarus, 13 September, 2020 - AP/TUT.BY

A series of mass protests followed, which was met with thousands of arrests, cases of torture, the death of several demonstrators, harsh sentences and forced exile.

According to Viasna, Belarus had 1,461 political prisoners as of 1 March 2023.

The West has imposed several rounds of sanctions against Minsk for its crackdown on the 2020 protests, but the regime still enjoys unwavering support from Moscow.

Belarus agreed to serve as a staging ground for Russian troops to attack Ukraine in February 2022, however, the Belarusian army has so far taken no direct part in the fighting.