MINSK -- Eleven Belarusian student activists and a teacher have gone on trial in Minsk amid a deepening crackdown on participants in nationwide protests against the disputed results of last year’s presidential election.
Journalists were barred from attending the trial that started on May 14 in the building of the Kastrychnik district court in the Belarusian capital.
The defendants include students from various universities in Minsk and a teacher from the Belarusian State University of IT and Radio Electronics, Volha Filatchankava, who gained prominence by taking part in a video statement last year that called for an end to violence against demonstrators who had demanded resignation of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
Only two relatives of each defendant were allowed to attend the hearing, held by Judge Maryna Fyodarava of the Soviet district court.
It is unclear why the authorities decided to hold the trial in the building of a different court.
The building of the Kastrychnik district court was surrounded by riot police, who detained at least six people who came to support the defendants.
The defendants, whom Belarusian rights group have recognized as political prisoners, are charged with "conspiracy, preparation, and organization of and participation in activities that violate social order.
If convicted, the defendants each face up to three years in prison.
All 12 were arrested in November amid the mass demonstrations that swept across Belarus after the August 9 vote -- which the opposition say was "rigged" -- that gave Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.
Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection crackdown in which almost 30,000 people have been detained, many sentenced to lengthy prison terms, hundreds beaten, several killed, and journalists targeted.
Lukashenka, who has run Belarus since 1994, and other top officials have been slapped with sanctions by the West, which refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the former Soviet republic.