The Minsk district court sentenced this Monday to 11 and 10 years in prison, respectively, the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, winner of the Sakharov Prize for freedom of conscience, and the opposition lawyer Maxim Znak, accused of having created and led an organization extremist to seize power.
According to the human rights organization Vesná, the two members of the Presidium of the Opposition Coordinating Council for the Peaceful Transfer of Power have been found guilty of committing actions against national security, creating and heading an extremist organization and conspiring to seize the power of unconstitutional manner.
The trial against the two opponents, of whom the Prosecutor’s Office said that they had created on July 16, 2020 together with other people a secret conspiracy to take power unconstitutionally in Belarus, began on August 4 behind closed doors.
According to a statement from the Belarusian Prosecutor General’s Office published on her Telegram account, Kolesnikova will serve her sentence in a general regime prison and Znak in a reinforced one.
Imprisoned for a year
The verdict can be appealed, something the defense plans to do soon, according to Znak’s lawyer. The reading of the sentence was attended by the parents of the two opponents, imprisoned for a year.
The videos of the hearing show Kolesnikova dressed in black, as usual, in the “fishbowl” with Znak forming a heart with her hands. It is one of the symbols of the three female leaders of the Belarusian opposition next to her, Svetlana Tijanóvskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo, during the election campaign: a clenched fist, a V for victory and a heart made with their hands.
At the entrance to the court there was a long queue of people who wanted to go to court to support the two opponents, according to the team of the businessman and former candidate for the Belarusian Presidency, Víktor Babariko, himself sentenced last July to 14 years in prison for allegedly receiving large bribes and money laundering.
The jurist Znak worked for the former banker before joining the Coordinating Council of the opposition, as did Kolesnikova, who was his campaign manager.
The Belarusian opposition decided to create a Coordinating Council for the peaceful transfer of power after the outbreak of anti-fraud protests in the presidential elections of August 9, 2020, in which the president, Alexandr Lukashenko, was re-elected with more than 80% of the votes, according to official data. Those elections were considered fraudulent by the opposition and the West.
All members of the council presidium have been imprisoned or exiled. Kolesnikova was arrested and jailed after refusing to be deported from the country by the KGB.
“Innocents!”, Has written the Babariko team on Telegram. “All Belarusians, lawyers, Masha (short for Maria) and Maxim know. Only the court ‘does not know,” he adds. “Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak are persecuted for political reasons because of their love for Belarus, respect for the law and desire for change,” he stressed.
Tijanóvskaya, in exile in Lithuania, has written on the same social network that “the regime would like to see Maxim and Maria crushed and powerless.” “But we see our heroes strong and full of inner freedom. They will go free long before the end of their sentences. These sentences that they have invented should not scare them, Maksim and Masha surely would not want that.”