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Belarusian opposition leader’s husband sentenced to 18 years in jail

“Syarhei Tsikhanouski, the husband of Belarus’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced on Tuesday to 18 years in jail for organising mass unrest and inciting social hatred,” the official Belta news agency reported.

Five supporters of Tsikhanouski were tried along with him and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years.

Mr Tsikhanouski, a video blogger, was jailed in May 2020 as he prepared to run against Belarus leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a presidential election in August that year. He denied the charges.

His wife Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya ran in his place in the election, which led to months of mass protests after Lukashenka claimed a landslide victory and the opposition accused him of rigging the ballot.

A few hours before the verdict was pronounced, Ms Tsikhanouskaya called it “illegal” and something that “should not be tolerated.”

“I will continue to defend the person I love, who has become a leader for millions of Belarusians,” she said in a video message commenting on the matter.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania to escape a sweeping crackdown after the election. She has since gained prominence, meeting an array of western leaders.

Her husband’s trial was closed to the public and lawyers were banned from disclosing details of the case.

In July, a Belarusian court jailed former presidential contender Viktor Babariko for 14 years after convicting him on corruption charges he denied. In September, Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of mass street protests against Lukashenko last year, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur Anaïs Marin said more than 35,000 people had been arbitrarily detained in Belarus over the past year and that the fear of repression had caused tens of thousands of Belarusians to flee to seek refuge abroad.

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