Belarus Opposition Leader Maria Kolesnikova Sentenced

As is Maxim Znak
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 7, 2021 12:00 AM CDT
Belarus Opposition Leader Sentenced
Belarus' opposition activists Maria Kolesnikova, right, and Maxim Znak attend a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.   (Ramil Nasibulin/BelTA pool photo via AP)

(Newser) – A court in Belarus on Monday sentenced two leading opposition activists to lengthy prison terms, the latest move in the relentless crackdown that Belarusian authorities have unleashed on dissent in the wake of last year’s anti-government protests. Maria Kolesnikova, a top member of the opposition Coordination Council, has been in custody since her arrest last September. A court in Minsk found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization, and calling for actions damaging state security and sentenced her to 11 years in prison, the AP reports. Lawyer Maxim Znak, another leading member of the Coordination Council who faced the same charges, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the convictions were unjust, adding, “we call for their immediate, unconditional release and for that of all other political prisoners held by the Lukashenko regime.” Western European officials also denounced the sentences. Kolesnikova, who helped coordinate monthslong opposition protests that erupted after an August 2020 presidential vote, resisted authorities’ attempts to force her to leave the country. Kolesnikova and Znak went on trial behind closed doors, with their families only allowed to be present at the sentencing hearing on Monday.

“For many, Maria has become an example of resilience and the fight between good and evil. I'm proud of her,” Kolesnikova's father, Alexander, told the AP on Monday. “It's not a verdict, but rather the revenge of the authorities.” Just before the start of her trial last month, Kolesnikova, 39, said in a note from prison that authorities offered to release her from custody if she asks for a pardon and gives a repentant interview to state media. She insisted that she was innocent and rejected the offer. (Much more here.)

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