A Minsk court Monday sentenced two Belarusian opposition figures to lengthy jail terms in what the State Department has called further evidence of “the regime’s total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms” of its citizens.
Maria Kolesnikova, a member of a so-called “coordination council’ that opposed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the run-up to his widely disputed re-election win last summer, was sentenced to 11 years for conspiracy to overthrow the government.
Maxim Znak, a lawyer who served on the same opposition council with Ms. Kolensnikova, was sentenced to 10 years for similar charges.
“Ms. Kalesnikava and Mr. Znak deserved a transparent judicial determination of the bogus charges levied against them, which they did not receive,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday. “Like every citizen of Belarus, Ms. Kolesnikova and Mr. Znak are entitled to the rights enumerated in the Belarusian constitution and to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by the law, in accordance with Belarus’ international human rights obligations.”
Ms. Kolesnikova and Mr. Znack were both detained in September of 2020 amid widespread protests opposing Mr. Lukashenko’s election to a sixth term in office.
World leaders have harshly criticized Mr. Lukashenko for what many say is a crackdown on dissidents in the country he has led since 1994 in the wake of his highly suspect election in August of 2020.
The U.S. levied sanctions against members of the Belarusian government in June in response to the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight to Minsk in May to arrest dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was aboard the flight.
“We reiterate our call for an end to the campaign of repression against the people of Belarus for exercising their human rights inside and outside Belarus and for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners – including Ms. Kolesnikova and Mr. Znak,” Mr. Blinken said Monday. “We reiterate our call for Belarusian authorities to begin a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition and members of civil society leading to free and fair elections under international observation.”
U.S. officials told the U.N. Human Rights Council in July that more than 500 political prisoners are currently being detained by Belarusian authorities.