A Court in Belarus Capital Minsk awarded hefty jail sentences to two opposition activists, Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak, to 11 and 10 years in jail, respectively. The sentence is the latest move in the severe crackdown on dissent against last year's anti-government protests. The hearing was behind closed doors, and only the families were allowed to be present.
Maria Kolesnikova is a member of the Opposition Coordination Council and was arrested in September 2020 and has been in custody since. The Court found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organisation and calling for actions to damage state property and was awarded an 11-year jail sentence. On the other hand, Maxim Znak, another Coordination Council member, had similar charges and was reprimanded with a 10-year jail sentence. International news media, Al Jazeera, reported that a video from inside the jail showed the hand-cuffed pair grinning in the defendant's cage before the ruling.
'Maria Has Become An Example Of Resilience'
Kolesnikova's father, Alexander, said that "For many, Maria has become an example of resilience and the fight between good and evil. I'm proud of her". He further added that the verdict was more of revenge from the authorities' side. According to Viasna, a Belarusian Rights Group, 659 political prisoners, including Znak and Kolesnikova. The European country experienced widespread protests after President Alexander Lukashenko came to power for the sixth time following a Presidential vote in August 2020. Opposition leaders and Western countries had denounced the results.
Maria Kolesnikova was an essential opposition and would walk up to the lines of riot police fearlessly. In September 2020, Belarusian agents drove the activist to the Ukrainian border to expel her from the country; however, in a neutral ground between the two countries, Maria managed to tear apart her passport and ran back into Belarus, after which she was immediately arrested.
Reactions From The West
The United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the act shows that the Belarusian authorities are continuing with their assault on defenders of democracy and freedom. Several other western nations also denounced the verdict. The United States issued a statement, "The United States condemns the politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing today of Belarusian opposition figures Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak".
The European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said that the European Union reiterates its demands for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus. Amnesty International said that the verdict was designed to crush the hopes of a generation of Belarusians and called it arbitrary.