Sep 6, 2021 - World

U.S., EU slam sentencing of Belarusian opposition leaders

Belarusian opposition activists Maxim Znak and Maria Kolesnikova appear for a sentencing hearing at the Minsk Region Court
Belarusian opposition activists Maxim Znak and Maria Kolesnikova appear for a sentencing hearing at the Minsk Region Court on Sept. 6. Photo: Ramil Nasibulin\TASS via Getty Images

A Belarusian court on Monday sentenced one of the leaders of last year's mass protests against authoritarian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko, prompting swift condemnation from the European Union and United States.

Driving the news: Maria Kolesnikova, who became one of the faces of the opposition movement in 2020, was sentenced to 11 years in prison, Reuters reported. Another opposition figure, Maxim Znak, was sentenced to 10 years.

  • They were found guilty of "crimes including plotting to seize power, threatening national security and extremism," according to the BBC. Both plan to appeal their verdicts.

What they're saying: "The EU deplores the continuous blatant disrespect by the Minsk regime of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus," a spokesperson for the E.U. said in a statement.

  • "The EU also reiterates its demands for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus (now numbering more than 650)," it added.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the convictions and sentences "politically motivated."

  • "Regrettably, these sentencings are further evidence of the regime’s total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus," he said in a statement.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in a tweet demanded Kolesnikova and Znak's release.

  • "We demand the immediate release of Maria & Maksim, who aren't guilty of anything. It's terror against Belarusians who dare to stand up to the regime. We won't stop until everybody is free in Belarus," Tsikhanouskaya said.
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