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Belarusian Army Officer Gets 18 Years In Prison Amid Crackdown Over Postelection Protests


Dzyanis Urad (file photo)

MINSK -- A captain in the Belarusian armed forces' General Staff accused of leaking a government document about the use of troops to crack down on peaceful protesters has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.

The Supreme Court on May 14 found 29-year-old Captain Dzyanis Urad guilty of high treason and sentenced him the same day.

Belarusian courts have been meting out tough punishments to protesters and officials like Urad who support them in a bid to quash mass opposition to Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's brutal 27-year rule.

Urad was arrested in March after he reportedly sent a photo to a popular Telegram channel in Poland of a letter from the Interior Ministry addressed to the Defense Ministry requesting troops.

His trial was held behind closed doors.

Urad's sentence is the harshest among dozens that have been handed down in recent months to Belarusians who oppose the official results of the August 9 presidential vote that gave the 66-year-old Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.

Also on May 14, 11 student activists and a teacher went on trial in Minsk on a charge of "conspiracy, preparation, and organization of and participation in activities that violate social order."

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 calling for an end to violence against demonstrators.

If convicted, each defendant faces up to three years in prison.

All 12 were arrested in November amid the mass demonstrations that swept across Belarus after the presidential poll, which the opposition says was rigged in Lukashenka's favor.

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.

Another court in Minsk on May 14 sentenced two activists -- Dzmitry Taratun and his female colleague Dziana Kazak -- to three years of open prison and 18 months of parole-like "freedom limitation," respectively, for painting symbols of opposition protests on a wall in February.

The open-prison system is known across the former Soviet Union as "khimia" (chemistry), a name that goes back to the late 1940s, when convicts were sent to work at dangerous industries, mainly chemical factories, and allowed to live in special dormitories instead of being incarcerated in penitentiaries.

These days, a "khimia" sentence means that a convict will stay in a dormitory not far from their permanent address and work either at their workplace as usual or at a state entity defined by the penitentiary service.

Journalist Tatsyana Kapitonava was sentenced to 10 days in jail in Minsk on May 14 for commemorating slain protesters by laying flowers at a site in Kamaraouka on the outskirts of the Belarusian capital the day before.

Kapitonava admitted that she was at the site on May 13 but rejected the charge, saying she did not lay anything anywhere.

In the western city of Brest on May 14, 12 activists went on trial for taking part in "mass disorder."

A court in the eastern city of Mahilyou on May 14 sentenced Aleh Aksyonau, the regional coordinator of the organizing committee of the nonregistered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, to 15 days in jail for taking part in an unsanctioned public event earlier this week.

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.

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