14 Dec 2021 15:01

Belarusian opposition activist Tikhanovsky sentenced to 18 years in prison - media

MINSK. Dec 14 (Interfax) - A court in Belarus has convicted Sergei Tikhanovsky, an opposition activist and the husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who stood in the Belarusian presidential election in 2020, the Belarusian state-run news agency BelTA said on Tuesday.

"Blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky has been sentenced to 18 years in a high-security penitentiary. The Gomel Regional Court has pronounced the sentence at a visiting session in a detention facility," BelTA said.

Tikhanovsky was accused of plotting and preparing for mass unrest in Belarus together with his circle over a long period of time. "The blogger openly called for violence against persons in authority and police officers through a YouTube channel and a same-name Telegram channel. His statements incited hatred and discord for reasons of social belonging," BelTA said.

Tikhanovsky originally planned to seek registration as a presidential candidate, but was unable to do so, as he was at a detention facility at the time allotted for the procedure. His wife Svetlana Tikhanovskaya submitted documents on registering her support group as a potential presidential candidate, indicating Sergei Tikhanovsky as the group's leader.

Tikhanovsky was detained during a picket in Grodno on May 29, 2020 in support of nominating his wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, for president. Some of his associates were also detained. Law enforcement agencies said that "an illegal public event, a rally, was organized, during which group actions were committed in blatant violation of public order and combined with outright disobedience to the police's lawful demands."

The Belarusian Prosecutor General's Office sent the charges brought against opposition member Sergei Tikhanovsky, Nikolai Statkevich, and other persons implicated in this case to the country's Supreme Court on May 5, 2021.

"According to the case materials, in June 2019 Sergei Tikhanovsky, Nikolai Statkevich, as well as Artyom Sakov, Dmitry Popov, Igor Losik, Vladimir Tsyganovich, and other citizens engaged by them began plotting mass riots in the country during the preparations for the presidential elections in the Republic of Belarus in 2020 and during the elections themselves," the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement on its website at the time.

Tikhanovsky, Sakov and Popov (moderator of the Country for Life social network and a citizen of Russia) were charged with organizing mass riots, colluding to disseminate materials to foment social hatred toward the authorities and law enforcement agencies, threatening the head of the Central Elections Commission, and organizing group actions constituting grave public order offenses and involving violence against representatives of the authorities.

Statkevich was charged with organizing mass unrest.

Igor Losik and Vladimir Tsyganovich were charged with steps undertaken by an organized group to incite social discord and hatred toward the authorities and law enforcement agencies and with organizing mass riots involving demolition and damage of property, arson and armed resistance to representatives of the authorities.

Tikhanovsky, Statkevich and the other defendants went on trial in Gomel on June 24. The trial took place behind closed doors on the grounds of Detention Facility No. 3 in Gomel.

Human rights activists have recognized Tikhanovsky as political prisoner.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya ran in the presidential election in August 2020 after the Belarusian Central Elections Commission denied registration to the campaign of her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was later detained. Alexander Lukashenko, who has served as president of Belarus since 1994, was declared the winner again. The opposition refused to recognize the official election results, claiming that they were falsified. Mass protests continued in the country for more than half a year. The protesters demanded Lukashenko's resignation, the release of political prisoners, and calling new elections. The protests gradually subsided after they were brutally suppressed by Belarusian security forces, and there have only been some sporadic and local demonstrations lately.

The European Union and the United States have not recognized Lukashenko as a legitimate president of Belarus and have imposed sanctions on the country. A number of EU countries have recognized Tikhanovskaya as leader of the Belarusian opposition forces.

The Belarusian State Security Committee (KGB) has put Tikhanovskaya, member of the Belarusian opposition's Coordinating Council Pavel Latushko, and 15 other people on a list of organizations and individuals responsible for terrorist activities.