- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MINSK, Belarus | Seven presidential candidates who ran against the country’s authoritarian leader could face up to 15 years in prison and one was beaten so badly in the election’s aftermath he is unable to walk, his lawyer and a human rights organization said.

Pavel Sapelko said Wednesday he suspects his client, Andrei Sannikov, has a broken leg, yet he was refused an X-ray.

“He feels very bad and looks very bad,” Mr. Sapelko told the Associated Press.

Mr. Sannikov received the most votes among the opposition candidates - 2.4 percent, compared with winner Alexander Lukashenko’s 79.6 percent.

Mr. Sannikov is one of among seven candidates who could face up to 15 years in prison in the wake of postelection violence and massive arrests, Belarusian human rights organization Vesna said Wednesday.

Lawyer Tamara Sidorenko said her client Vladimir Neklyayev, another prominent challenger, was beaten as he tried to lead a column of supporters to the protest in central Minsk on Sunday night.

He was taken to a hospital, and an aide said men in civilian clothing wrapped him in a blanket on his hospital bed and carried him away as his wife screamed. Ms. Sidorenko said she has not been allowed to visit him since.

The former Soviet state’s security service, which is still called the KGB, has filed charges against 20 top opposition figures, including the seven candidates, for organizing mass disturbances, said Ales Belyatsky of Vesna.

KGB spokesman Alexander Antonovich declined comment.

Overall, some 700 people were arrested after Sunday’s election that returned Mr. Lukashenko to a fourth term in office. International monitors called the election fraudulent.

Two of the arrested candidates were later released, but both of them - Grigory Kostusyev and Dmitry Uss - were summoned to KGB offices for further questioning on Wednesday.

Mr. Lukashenko, often called Europe’s last dictator, has been in power in Belarus for more than 16 years. He exercises overwhelming control over the politics, industry and media in this nation of 10 million, which borders Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations.

The repression has been an embarrassment to the European Union, which had offered $3.9 billion in aid if the elections were judged to be free and fair.

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