Belarus Continues Persecution of Opposition Leaders, Journalists

Published: 17 January 2023

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya BelarusSviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an exiled Belarus opposition leader, is pushing global business leaders to assist independent Belarus media, which Lukashenko's dictatorship is attempting to muzzle. (Photo: European Parliament, Flickr, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

A Belarus court opened on Tuesday a trial in absentia of the country’s leading opposition politicians, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled the country after she challenged the country’s long-time autocratic president Aleksandr Lukashenko at the 2020 elections.

Apart from Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently in Poland, the Minsk court will be considering charges against Pavlo Latushka, Maria Moroz, Olga Kovalkova and Syarhei Dileuski.

All of the defendants are abroad and their charges range from treason, “conspiracy to seize power,” to founding and running an extremist organization.

“I am charged with 10+ crimes. Does it change anything for me? Nothing. It is just the revenge of a pathetic dictator who lost power and tries to take revenge on all who stood up for freedom,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

“Belarus needs real justice, not a puppet show,” she added.

Instead of appearing in court, she spoke at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, emphasizing that there will be no secure Europe without a democratic Belarus and that President Lukashenko must bear full responsibility for the “terror in Belarus and war in Ukraine.”

While she is urging global business leaders to support independent Belarus media as the “only alternative to state propaganda,” the regime in Minsk continues its efforts to silence those media.

A trial of imprisoned journalist Maryna Zolatava, the editor of Belarus’ main independent media portal, TUT.BY, and the outlet’s CEO Lyudmila Chekina, started last week in Minsk. The two were arrested in May 2021 during a raid of TUT.BY premises on accusations of tax fraud.

The two women have been in pre-trial detention since then and have been added to the country’s terrorist list.

An international freedom of information watchdog has urged Belarussian authorities to promptly release Zolatava and called the accusations against her “ridiculous.”

Earlier this month, a trial started in Minsk against the Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of the Human Rights Center Viasna (Spring), his deputy Valentin Stefanovich and the coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign Uladzimir Labkovich. They were charged with financial embezzlement and violation of public order for which they could end up in prison for seven to 12 years.

“There are at least 1,446 political prisoners in Belarus - during the past year, the number almost doubled. It includes 15 married couples and 70 persons sentenced to 10 years or more,” warned Tsikhanouskaya.

“It’s a machine of terror and repression, built to break all those who dare to resist the regime,” she concluded.