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Belarus: Activist Receives 18-Month Sentence

Finkevich at the judicial proceedings on December 20 ( A court in Belarus has sentenced a critic of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka who had already served a year and a half in jail to an additional 18 months of confinement.

The move leaves little doubt as to whether a crackdown on student activists is continuing despite Western pressure to release political prisoners.

The court, in the Belarusian court city of Mahilyov, handed down the additional time for opposition activist Artur Finkevich for allegedly violating the terms of an earlier prison sentence. Finkevich had been sentenced to two years of light confinement for "malicious hooliganism" in May 2006 for spray-painting an opposition slogan -- "We want another one!" -- on a building, in reference to authoritarian President Lukashenka.

Finkevich's allies in the Belarusian opposition called the sentence, which was handed down on December 20, an attempt to intimidate pro-democracy activists.

"This is criminal brutality on the part of the authorities," Mykola Statkevich, a former political prisoner, told to RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "They are trying to break Artur and to scare his friends. I'm sure that they will succeed in neither of these things, and someday the people who did it will have to answer in court themselves."

The sentence comes shortly after another opposition activist was severely beaten by police during a peaceful demonstration in Minsk protesting a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin. It also appears to flaunt demands from the United States and European Union that Minsk release political prisoners as a condition for better relations.

Jan Maksymiuk, acting director of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, says that with Minsk's relations with Russia improving, the Belarusian authorities feel less obligated to adhere to Western demands on human rights.

The current director of the Malady Front (Youth Front) youth group, of which Finkevich is a member, was hospitalized last week after sustaining a beating at a peaceful public rally.

Rights activists say the sentence fits into a pattern of intimidation against pro-democracy youth activists. "This is an attempt to break him, to break his dignity," Ina Kulej, chairwoman of the Committee for the Protection of Victims of Political Repression and the wife of Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milenkevich, said. "And of course it is also a signal to the youth that [the authorities] have the means to control you."

According to the conditions of his house arrest, Finkevich was required to live in a barracks-like detention facility, work in a day job designated by the authorities, and report to officials the facility at regular intervals.

Prosecutors accused him of being late to work, reporting late to officials at the facility, and of being intoxicated. Finkevich said at the trial that he was on medication.

Some of Finkevich's friends and political allies from Malady Front opposition group said they showed up at the trial expecting him to be acquitted and released. "Both girls and boys were crying [after the sentence]," activist Alena Makarevich said. "To be honest, I went there in hopes of congratulating Artur [after his expected release]. The defense lawyer said the maximum would be one year and then the prosecutor asked for two years. We are all shocked. We will file a bunch of complaints. We will not let this stand. I think there will be a campaign in Finkevich's defense and the authorities will be sorry that they have done it."