A court in Belarus sentenced exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to 15 years in prison for leading protests against the country's authoritarian leader in August 2020.
Tikhanovskaya was sentenced in absentia on charges of high treason and "conspiracy to seize power" after fleeing to neighbouring Lithuania following mass protests that broke out immediately after massively falsified elections results were released that returned incumbent Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to office.
Tikhanovskaya ran in the election in place of her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky, who had been jailed on trumped up charges shortly before the election.
“15 years of prison. This is how the regime “rewarded” my work for democratic changes in Belarus. But today I don't think about my own sentence. I think about thousands of innocents, detained & sentenced to real prison terms. I won't stop until each of them is released,” Tikhanovskaya said in a tweet.
Dismissing her as “only a housewife,” Lukashenko allowed Tikhanovskaya to run in the election, which she is widely believed to have won by a landslide. Her platform was a promise to immediately release the political prisoners from jail, return the 1996 constitution that includes term-limits on presidents and to quit and call fresh democratic elections.
Pavel Latushko, a former Belarusian diplomat and culture minister turned opposition leader, was also sentenced in absentia to 18 years in jail.
Tikhanovskaya, who described the trial as a "farce", vowed to continue advocating for political prisoners detained in Belarus. The strongman Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, responded ruthlessly to the demonstrations that unfolded in the run-up to the August vote, leading to protests across the country.
Since being forced to flee Belarus in 2020, Tikhanovskaya campaigned tirelessly in the EU for sanctions against the country to try to force Lukashenko to release her husband and other political prisoners and call fresh elections.
Tikhanovsky was a popular blogger and one of the leading contenders to win the race. He was convicted in 2021 of organising riots, inciting social hatred and other charges, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics condemned the "kangaroo court" decision and the "abuse of justice imposed by the illegitimate Lukashenko's regime".
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the ruling and called for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus.
According to human rights group Viasna, authorities in Belarus are holding nearly 1,500 political prisoners as of this month.