KYIV — Maria Kolesnikova, one of the leaders of the mass street protest against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday, state-owned Bertha news agency and Belarusian opponents reported.
Kolesnikova, 39, was detained after breaking her passport to prevent Belarusian security forces from deporting her at a standoff at the Ukraine border in September.
Turning from a musician to a politician became one of the faces of the mass opposition movement in the August 2020 presidential election, and protesters say they cheated to expand Lukashenko’s seizure of power. ..
Lukashenko, who denied the election fraud, has been in the former Soviet Republic since 1994 and has faced new western sanctions since he began violent crackdowns on his adversaries.
Kolesnikova and another opposition senior, Maxim Znak, have been charged with extremism and tort of attempting to seize power. Both denied cheating and called Kolesnikova ridiculous of the charges.
Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Video from the Sputnik Belarusian channel showed two people in a glass cage before the verdict. Kolesnikova raised her handcuffed hand to make a trademark heart sign and smiled at the camera.
“Maria and Maxim are Belarusian heroes. The administration wants us to see them crushed and exhausted. But look. They are dancing with a smile.” Sviatlana Tsukhanouskaya, an exiled opposition figure, said on Twitter. “They know — we’ll release them much earlier than these 11 years. Their words shouldn’t scare us — Maxim and Maria don’t want this.”
The trial, which began last month, was not open to the public for national security reasons. The circumstances of the case, investigators and witnesses were not disclosed. Dozens of people came to the court building on Monday, according to several videos on social media.
Kolesnikova was among the tens of thousands of people detained after the protests began.
She was one of three women, a beginner in all politics, and joined forces before last year’s campaign against Lukashenko after being barred from running for well-known male candidates.
Lukashenko, one of the men who tried to confront Lukashenko, was imprisoned for 14 years in July.