HOMEL, Belarus -- Four associates of Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya have pleaded not guilty to charges of organizing protests against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka as their trial started on April 12 in the southeastern city of Homel.
Tatsyana Kaneuskaya, Yury Ulasau, Dzmitry Ivashkou, and Alyaksandr Shabalin were members of Tsikhanouskaya's campaign team and arrested just days before an August 9, 2020, presidential election for organizing gatherings and demonstrations demanding independent candidates be registered for the vote.
The four were also charged with the seizure of a building, while Ulasau was additionally charged with publicly insulting an official.
RFE/RL correspondents reported that dozens of people came to support the four activists at the courthouse on April 12, but only one person for each defendant’s family was allowed to enter the building due to what officials called "coronavirus precautions."
Journalists were also not allowed into the courtroom.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Those relatives who were allowed to enter the building were forced to leave their telephones at a security desk before entering the courtroom.
Kaneuskaya's son, Alyaksey Kaneuski, who was allowed to be present at the trial, told journalists later in the day that all four defendants pleaded not guilty.
Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets, almost weekly, since the election when Lukashenka claimed reelection in a vote that Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters called fraudulent.
The demonstrators are demanding that Lukashenka leave and new elections be held, but Belarus's strongman has been defiant. Security officials have arrested thousands and forced Tsikhanouskaya and other top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus for Lithuania after the election for security reasons and has been rallying international support for the pro-democracy movement.
More than 30,000 people have been detained in the protests, with hundreds beaten, several killed, and reports from rights groups that there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials.
In response to the ongoing crackdown, the West has slapped sanctions on top officials and refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of the former Soviet republic.