MINSK -- An associate of jailed Belarusian vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski has been sentenced to six years in prison on charges he and his supporters have rejected as politically motivated.
The Lenin district court in the western city of Hrodna late on April 27 found 38-year-old Alyaksandr Aranovich guilty of plotting mass disorder and organizing activities that violate public order.
Judge Alena Pyatrova sentenced Aranovich the same day.
"The case is fabricated. No evidence was presented. I was not allowed to defend myself. Everything is being done to put me behind bars," Aranovich said in his final statement at the trial.
Aranovich was arrested in late May last year along with Tsikhanouski and several opposition politicians and activists after they campaigned across the country, demanding election officials allow independent candidates, including Tsikhanouski, to officially register to run in an August 9 presidential election.
The trials of Tsikhanouski and the others in the case are pending. Tsikhanouski has been charged with organizing mass disorder, incitement of social hatred, impeding the Central Election Commission's activities, and organizing activities that disrupt social order.
If convicted, Tsikhanouski may face up to 15 years in prison.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
Tsikhanouski was the owner of a popular YouTube channel called "The Country For Life," which challenges Belarusian authorities, when he announced his willingness to run against authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka early last year.
During the campaign, Tsikhanouski and his associates moved between towns and cities in a camper with a large inscription "The Country For Life" that was driven by Aranovich.
Before his arrest, Tsikhanouski's candidacy was rejected by election officials.
His wife Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya took over during the campaign and ran as a candidate in the presidential poll, rising to become the main challenger to Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994.
The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in the election that has been widely criticized as rigged.
The results have sparked months of mass protests and have been contested by Tsikhanouskaya, whose supporters claim she won the vote, as well as opposition figures across the country.
Lukashenka has overseen a violent crackdown on the protesters which has seen thousands -- including media members -- detained and scores injured.
Overall, more than 1,800 criminal cases have been launched over the protests against the official results of the presidential election.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus immediately after the vote fearing for her family's security. She currently lives in Lithuania with her children. Most leading opposition figures have been forced from the country, while many of those still in Belarus have been detained by law enforcement.