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Belarusian Court Sentences Oppositionist

Marynich being led into court 31 December 2004 -- A prominent Belarusian opposition figure was sentenced to five years in prison yesterday after being convicted by a Minsk court of stealing computers belonging to the U.S. Embassy.

But Mikhail Marynich says the computers had been handed over free of charge by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk to the Marynich-led Business Initiative Organization.

The U.S. Embassy did not report the computers stolen, and a U.S. State Department statement presented to the court said the embassy had no claims against Marynich.

Marynich, a former international economic affairs minister and mayor of Minsk, joined the opposition in 2001.

He pleaded innocent and said the entire trial was "totally lawless" and politically motivated.

"I am deeply convinced that the lawlessness, violence, and cynicism applied to me will come back, sooner or later, to those who ordered and executed this [prosecution and trial]. I believe and I know that it will not take long for a change to take place. Honorable judges, may God send you willpower, justice, and courage. All I ask of you is to be objective and make a just decision," Marynich said.

His lawyer, Vera Stremkovskaya, said they would appeal the case to the Minsk regional court.

Marynich's case raised concerns from the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent representatives to watch court proceedings.