A court in Belarus has sentenced exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison after a trial in absentia on charges including conspiring to overthrow the government.
Tsikhanouskaya ran against President Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020, in an election that handed him his sixth term in office and was widely questioned by the opposition and political observers.
She called her conviction and sentence on Monday as an act of vengeance by Belarusian authorities and vowed to continue to “fight for freedom.”
The results of the vote triggered the largest protests in the country’s history.
The government unleashed a crackdown on demonstrators, accusing the opposition of plotting to overthrow the government, and Tsikhanouskaya left for Lithuania under pressure.
Tsikhanouskaya and four other opposition figures were tried in their absence in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
READ MORE: Belarus seeks 19-year jail term for exiled opposition leader
‘State turned into KGB’
Photos from the courtroom, released by Belarus’ state news agency Belta, showed an empty defendants’ cage. The charges against them also included creating and leading an extremist group, inciting hatred and harming national security.
Tsikhanouskaya told the Associated Press in an interview that her court-appointed lawyer hasn’t been in touch with her once during the trial and has not responded to her requests to review the case files.
She charged that the law and the justice system in Belarus no longer work, and the state “has turned into one big KGB.”
“The regime takes revenge on me and all Belarusians – it takes revenge for the fact that we chose freedom in 2020, for not resigning, not giving in, but continuing to fight,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
Another exiled opposition politician, Pavel Latushka, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Latushka, who once served as Belarus’ minister of culture and then as ambassador in several European nations, was also barred for five years from holding public office.
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