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Charges Against Belarusian Opposition Figure An 'Outrage,' Says U.S. State Department

Belarusian oppositionist Maryya Kalesnikava (file photo)
Belarusian oppositionist Maryya Kalesnikava (file photo)

Formal charges filed against Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava are "an outrage," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on May 13.

"Manufactured charges against Maria and others who speak out bravely for the Belarusian people further demonstrate the regime’s fears of its own citizens," Price said on Twitter.

Price also noted that Kalesnikava is a 2021 recipient of the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage award for continuing to be the "face of the opposition inside Belarus, courageously facing imprisonment in the aftermath of the disputed election."

Kalesnikava has been charged for urging people to protest against the disputed presidential election that left Alyaksandr Lukashenka in power.

Her associates told RFE/RL on May 13 that, according to official documents, Kalesnikava has been charged with conspiracy to seize power by unconstitutional means, public calls for action against national security, and creating and leading an extremist group.

If found guilty, Kalesnikava faces up to 12 years in prison.

Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the formal charges against Kalesnikava unacceptable.

"Obviously, the regime uses false charges to repress," she said on Twitter.

Kalesnikava is a key member of the Coordination Council, a body set up by the political opposition in Belarus to facilitate the transfer of power in the country following a presidential election in August that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.

Kalesnikava has rejected all charges against her as politically motivated.

She was arrested on September 7 in the center of Minsk by masked men along with two other representatives of the Coordination Council.

The three were driven early on September 8 to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine.

Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she ripped her passport into small pieces after they arrived in no-man’s land between Belarus and Ukraine. Kalesnikava was driven back to Minsk and jailed.

Their arrests came amid mass demonstrations that swept across Belarus for several months after the disputed vote that gave Lukashenka a sixth consecutive term.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Belarus Service
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