In response to last year's post-election protests, Belarus has sentenced a leading opposition figure to five years in prison. The verdict has drawn the authoritarian regime sharp international criticism.
Lukashenko's authoritarian rule has little room for opposition
Leading Belarusian opposition figure Andrei Sannikov was sentenced to five years in prison on Saturday. The charges held against him are the organization of mass disturbances in the aftermath of the country's last presidential election.
"Sannikov is guilty of organizing mass disturbances, accompanied by violence," judge Natalya Chetvertakova said.
"Look after my loved ones!" Sannikov shouted from the courtroom cage after the verdict was read out. He has denied all the charges against him.
More activists awaiting trial
The 57-year-old is one of Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko's main political opponents and was one of the leaders of public protests against Lukashenko's disputed election victory in the 2010 vote.
He was one of seven candidates running against the controversial leader.
Four other defendants where handed sentences of up to three-and-a-half years. A number of other opposition activists are still awaiting trial in connection with last year's unrest.
During the 1990s Andrei Sannikov was deputy foreign minister. But running against President Alexander Lukashenko has now put him behind bars
'A new low for Belarus'
The verdict immediately drew widespread international condemnation with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying that "the verdict is not based on the rule of law but an expression of the political will of President Lukashenko."
Britain slammed the sentence as "a new low for the rule of law in Belarus."
The US state department said in a statement that Washington considered those sentenced "to be political prisoners," and called for their immediate release and an end to human rights violations in the country often described as Europe's last dictatorship.
Since the regime's crackdown on the opposition after the 2010 election, the European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Belarus and imposed a travel ban on Lukashenko and 150 other members of the country's political elite.
Luskashenko has been in power in Belarus for almost 17 years.
Author: Andreas Illmer (Reuters, AFP, dapd)
Editor: Kyle James