MINSK — Verdicts and sentences are expected to be handed down in the trial of two leading Belarusian opposition figures, Maryya Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak, on conspiracy charges the United States has called “manufactured” amid an ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activists and groups by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The two defendants, who are members of the opposition Coordination Council, were charged with conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security using media and the Internet.
While the trial was held behind closed doors, the verdict, expected around noon on September 6 in Minsk, will be held during an open session of the court.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Both have rejected the charges, which stem from their calls for protests against the official election results in August 2020 as politically motivated.
They face up to 12 years in prison if convicted. Because the trial wasn’t public, it is not known what prosecutors are seeking in terms of sentences for the pair.
The ongoing crackdown started after the presidential election awarded Lukashenka a sixth term, sparking an unprecedented wave of protests amid allegations the vote was rigged.
Mass protests against Lukashenka were met with the heavy-handed, and sometimes violent, detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested during mass demonstrations demanding Lukashenka’s resignation. There have also been what human rights groups call credible reports of torture in the crackdown.
Kalesnikava was recently shortlisted for the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which is awarded each year by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to honor “outstanding” civil society work in the defense of human rights.