Belarus opposition candidate jailed for post-election protest

 

Moscow

One of the leading political opponents of the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko was sentenced to five years in prison at the weekend for his part in protests that followed presidential elections last December.

Andrei Sannikov stood in the elections, which Mr Lukashenko won comfortably but which international bodies have said were rigged, and later led supporters on to the streets of Minsk to protest against the outcome. The police arrested hundreds of demonstrators, along with almost all the opposition candidates.

Judge Natalya Chetvertakova said Mr Sannikov "led a crowd that committed excesses", as she read the sentence in a central Minsk courtroom on Saturday. "Sannikov is guilty of organising mass disturbances, accompanied by violence against the person, attacks, destruction of property," she said.

Mr Sannikov, 57, is a former deputy foreign minister who has become one of the leading figures in the democratic opposition to Mr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994.

Mr Sannikov, who called the charges "absurd" and said the demonstrations he led were peaceful, gave a two-fingered victory sign from behind the bars of the defendants' cage, where he was on trial with four co-defendants.

While Mr Lukashenko received another five-year term to govern the country, Mr Sannikov will now spend the next five years in a high-security prison. After the verdict, he shouted: "The main thing is to protect my family." In the corridors of the courtroom, a small group of activists shouted "freedom".

Mr Sannikov's mother Alla, fighting back tears, said: "If you try... to genuinely change the life of our people, to change the life of our country, it's a ticket straight to prison. But I am proud of my son." Mr Sannikov's wife, the journalist Irina Khalip, awaits sentencing for her role in the protests. Mr Sannikov's supporters say that during time spent in jail, the politician was subjected to physical violence and threats about what would happen to him and his family.

Since the December elections, the EU has placed a travel ban on Mr Lukashenko and 150 top Belarusian officials, while the US State Department said at the weekend that it considered Mr Sannikov and four other presidential candidates who are still facing trial to be "political prisoners" and called for their immediate release.

Mr Lukashenko's rhetoric in the months since the protests has hardened, and he has frequently called the political opposition a "fifth column" that is out to destroy Belarus. He insinuated that the opposition might have links to a mysterious bomb blast that killed 13 people on the Minsk metro last month, and said the blast occurred partly because of the "nauseating" surfeit of democracy in the country.

Belarus is still run largely on Soviet lines, with the state controlling most major industries. Recently a severe currency crisis has led to food shortages.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks