A former Olympic swimmer and a political activist were sentenced in absentia to 12 years in prison by a Belarusian court on Monday for their role in protesting Alexander Lukashenko's authoritarian regime.
Champion swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia and political activist Alexander Opeykin were found guilty of actions aimed at "causing harm to the national security of Belarus," according to the state-run BelTA news agency.
"From August, 2020 to May 20, 2022, through the media and the Internet, they disseminated deliberately false information and fabrications about the events that took place on the territory of Belarus, about the course and results of the election campaign 2020," BelTA reported.
Both of the activists have escaped the country.
Three-time Olympic medalist Herasimenia and Opeikin founded the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which brings together hundreds of Belarusian athletes in opposition to Lukashenko.
The largest international competitions scheduled to take place in Belarus in 2021 were canceled in part because of efforts of the foundation.
Court ruling condemned
It was the first verdict against dissidents that was announced in absentia, after Lukashenko signed a law in July allowing courts to try Belarusians who had fled abroad.
Along with her prison sentence, Herasimenia's apartment, car and $48,000 (€45,089) in her bank accounts were seized by the court.
Belarusian opposition leader-in-exile Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, condemning the court ruling, called it "Shameful!" on Twitter.
"This is how the regime tries to punish its opponents in exile," she said. "The regime can't get to them, but their property in Belarus was seized, including a car & an apartment."
Protests against Lukashenko
After the disputed reelection of Lukashenko in August 2020, which the opposition and the West criticized as a sham, Belarus was rocked by widespread demonstrations.
More than 35,000 people were detained during the crackdown on the protests, and thousands were assaulted by police.
Over 1,300 political prisoners are held in Belarus, according to the US embassy there.
Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has also allowed Russia to launch its attacks on Ukraine from Belarusian territory.
ss/wd (AP, AFP, Reuters)