1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Belarus: Trial begins for opposition leader's husband

June 24, 2021

Siarhei Tsikhanouski, arrested when he tried to run against Belarus' autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko, has gone to trial. Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told DW the trial is far from fair.

Tsikhanouskaya holds a picture of her husband
From exile in Lithuania, Tsikhanouskaya declared the trial an act of "personal revenge"Image: Roman Vondrous/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Belarus opposition leader's husband on trial

Six handcuffed accused, including former presidential candidate and popular blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski, were shown via government online video being escorted Thursday into a courtroom cage in Gomel in southeastern Belarus.

The independent Viasna rights group said Tsikhanouski and another opposition figure, Mikola Statkevich, faced up to 15 years in jail on charges of allegedly "manipulating public consciousness" via social media during pro-democracy protests last year. 

From her exile in Lithuania, Tsikhanouski's wife Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus's main opposition leader, described the trial as "personal revenge" of President Alexander Lukashenko, who along with close aides is facing a slew of international sanctions.

In an interview with DW, she also called for the release of all political prisoners and questioned the legitimacy of Thursday's trial: "I can't call it a trial. It's a fake trial. No diplomats, no relatives, no mass media were allowed to attend."

Tsikhanouskaya became Lukashenko's main electoral opponent in the election held in August after her husband was detained soon after announcing his presidential bid. He was widely known for the anti-Lukashenko slogan, "Kill the cockroach." 

Lukashenko was awarded a sixth term, officially with 80% of the vote, last August, but protests alleging regime manipulation of results broke out and a major crackdown ensued.

When activist Statkevich walked into the Gomel courtroom, he shouted "Long live Belarus!" — an opposition slogan during last year's demonstrations.

EU bans Belarus potash imports

News outlet "extremist"

At a separate hearing in the capital, Minsk, on Thursday, Belarusian authorities sought to designate the popular independent news outlet Tut.by as "extremist."

The site was blocked in May, with 15 employees detained on charges of tax evasion. 

On Tuesday, prosecutors had sought 15-year jail sentences for another leading opposition figure Viktor Babariko, who last year had also tried to contest the presidency until his arrest on fraud charges in June 2020.

Minsk persistent despite sanctions

Backed by key ally and creditor Russia, Lukashenko has so far shrugged off Western pressure, with most opponents either in jail or having fled the country.

The European Union, United States, Britain and Canada have instituted fresh sanctions on Lukashenko's Belarus over the forced landing and arrest of another regime critic.

Tsikhanouskaya welcomed those sanctions. She told DW: "We are really grateful to the EU and the United States, and other democratic countries. Sanctions can help."

She also said the opposition movement in the country was still strong.

"The opposition is the majority of Belarusians — we are millions of people who want change," she said. "People are not giving up and are united. People understand what they are fighting for."

How are the sanctions different from before?

The wide-ranging economic sanctions target Belarus' main export industries and access to finance a month after it forced a Ryanair flight to land in order to arrest a dissident journalist.

The measures include banning EU businesses from importing goods or doing business with Belarusian firms in sectors such as banking, petroleum and potash, a salt used in fertilizer that is the country's main export.

The sanctions are far stricter than previous measures, which mainly consisted of blacklists of Belarusian officials.

jsi, ipj/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)