Belarus sentence mass protest leader Maria Kolesnikova to 11 years in jail

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Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition figure and protest leader against President Alexander Lukashenko. (Photo Credit - Reuters)
Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition figure and protest leader against President Alexander Lukashenko. (Photo Credit - Reuters)

Minsk [Belarus], September 8 (ANI): A Belarusian court on Monday sentenced Maria Kolesnikova, an opposition figure and protest leader against President Alexander Lukashenko to 11 years in prison.

Kolesnikova led mass street protests against President Lukashenko. A musician-turned-activist, Kolesnikova was one of three women who joined forces last year to front the opposition's campaign against Lukashenko after prominent male opposition candidates were barred from the presidential race.

The latest move is a widespread crackdown on government critics following a contested election last year, reported CNN.

Kolesnikova and another opposition activist, Maxim Znak, were charged with extremism and conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way" in a trial held in the capital Minsk behind closed doors, Belarusian state media Belta reported.

Znak, who is also a key member of the coordination council formed by opponents of Lukashenko's authoritarian government, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The duos were the face of a protest movement that sent tens of thousands of Belarusians onto the streets to demand political change during the country's election, reported CNN.

The demonstrators, as well as independent observers, alleged that the vote was rigged to extend Lukashenko's 27-year rule.

President Lukashenko, who denied electoral fraud, has faced sanctions from the US and other Western governments since claiming victory and launching a crackdown against opponents last year.

"We demand the immediate release of Maria & Maksim, who aren't guilty of anything. It's terror against Belarusians who dare to stand up to the regime. We won't stop until everybody is free in Belarus," Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian opposition leader who ran for president and led protests with Kolesnikova, said on Twitter Monday after the verdict was announced.

Tikhanovskaya, who stood in for her husband as an opposition candidate after he was imprisoned in the run-up to the vote, fled to neighbouring Lithuania with her children last August after contesting preliminary election results that handed Lukashenko a landslide win.

Tikhanovskaya called Kolesnikova and Znak "heroes for Belarusians." (ANI)

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