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Belarus hands opposition leader’s husband 18 years in prison

A court in Belarus has sentenced the husband of the country’s opposition leader to 18 years in prison, six months after the trial began behind closed doors.

The charges against Siarhei Tsikhanouski included organising mass unrest and inciting hatred, and have been widely seen as politically motivated.

Mr Tsikhanouski, a popular video blogger and activist, planned to challenge authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in the August 2020 presidential election, and was widely known for the anti-Lukashenko slogan “Stop the cockroach”.

He was arrested in May 2020, two days after he declared his candidacy.

His wife, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, ran in his stead, drawing tens of thousands of people to rally in her support during the campaign.

Official results of the vote handed Mr Lukashenko a landslide victory and a sixth term in office, but were rejected by the opposition and the West as a sham.

The results triggered a months-long wave of unprecedented mass protests, the largest of which saw 200,000 people take to the streets of the capital Minsk.

Mr Lukashenko’s government unleashed a violent crackdown on the demonstrators, arresting more than 30,000 and beating thousands more.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya fled the country to Lithuania a day after the vote under pressure from the authorities. Other key opposition figures have also left the country, while some have ended up behind bars.

In recent months, pressure has mounted on Belarus’s non-governmental organisations, rights groups, activists and journalists, with authorities regularly conducting mass raids and detentions of those they suspect of supporting last year’s protests.

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