Babaryko case: Belarus jails top Lukashenko critic for 14 years

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  • Belarusian presidential election 2020

image copyrightAFPimage captionBabaryko was once head of a Belarus subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom

A former challenger for the Belarusian presidency, Viktor Babaryko, has been sentenced to 14 years in jail.

The former banker was found guilty of taking bribes and money-laundering – charges he says were fabricated to prevent him challenging Alexander Lukashenko in last year's election.

He is among the top opponents of Mr Lukashenko who have been either jailed or forced into exile.

They and Western governments say Mr Lukashenko rigged the Belarus vote.

Raids on the bank Babaryko had formerly led – Belgazprombank – resulted in a criminal investigation. After he was barred from running in the election and detained last June, a trio of women joined forces to oppose Mr Lukashenko.

They included Maria Kolesnikova, an ally of Babaryko, who is also now in jail.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whose opposition politician husband Sergei Tikhanovsky was detained in March 2020, claimed victory in the August election after standing in his place. She was forced into exile with her children the next day.

She has condemned her husband's trial, currently taking place behind closed doors, as a "sham".

media captionSvetlana Tikhanovskaya: My husband's spirit is not broken

Mr Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has cracked down massively on his opponents. Huge street protests continued for weeks after the disputed 9 August vote. The protests were broken up brutally by police, and thousands were detained.

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Belarus's forced diversion of a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Greece to Lithuania in May outraged the EU, prompting the bloc to tighten sanctions on Belarus, including a landing ban on its national carrier Belavia.

Roman Protasevich, the prominent anti-Lukashenko campaigner who was taken off the jet at Minsk airport, was moved to house arrest by the Belarusian authorities last month. His girlfriend, Russian citizen Sofia Sapega, who was arrested with him, is also now under house arrest.

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