Belarus: presidential candidate sentenced to five years for inciting riots

Belarus’s Minsk City Court last week sentenced former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau to a five-year maximum security prison term for organizing protests following the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in December 2010. Lukashenko reportedly won 80% of the vote, while Sannikau was second with a distant 2.5%. Currently, four other presidential candidates are awaiting trial, while one was released in January, and another has fled Belarus to seek asylum in the Czech Republic.

All of the detained protesters are accused of violating Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, for inciting and participating in riots. In addition to maintaining that the election was rigged, Sannikau alleged confessions he gave before the trial were extracted under torture and threats to his family. Both the US and the European Union have condemned Sannikau’s conviction and the ongoing trials, with the US considering all those arrested on Dec. 19 as “political prisoners” and promising to consider Belarus’ human rights violations in future dealings with the nation.

Hundreds of activists were also arrested after protesting Lukashenko’s 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. In 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators, including journalists, for participating in a banned “Freedom Day” rally in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign was sentenced to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.

From Jurist, May 15. Used with permission.

Update: On May 20, the Frunze district court of Minsk court handed down suspended two-year prison terms to two other opposition politicians who ran against Lukashenko. Vladimir Neklyaye and Vitaly Rymashevsky were found guilty of organizing actions that violated public order. Sentences for both were suspended by the two years, but EU leaders issued calls for new sanctions against Belarus. (DW-World, May 21; Reuters, May 20)

See our last post on Belarus.