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Date Set For Trial Of Belarusian Opposition Figures

Belarusian pro-democracy activists Maryya Kalesnikava (left) and Maksim Znak (file photo)
Belarusian pro-democracy activists Maryya Kalesnikava (left) and Maksim Znak (file photo)

MINSK -- August 4 has been set for as the start date for the trial of two leading Belarusian opposition figures, Maryya Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak, on charges the United States has called "manufactured" amid an ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activists and groups by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Lawyers for the two, who are member of the opposition Coordination Council, said they were informed by the Minsk regional court on July 28 that the trial will be conducted behind closed doors.

Kalesnikava and Znak were charged with conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security using media and the Internet.

Both have rejected the charges, which stem from their calls for protests against official election results last August, as politically motivated.

Kalesnikava was arrested on September 7 in the center of Minsk by masked men and taken to the Ukrainian border the next day along with two associates. Ordered to cross the border, Kalesnikava refused, tearing up her passport instead. She was then taken back to Minsk and jailed.

Mass demonstrations engulfed the country after Lukashenka claimed victory and a sixth consecutive term as president in the August election.

The opposition said its candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president after her husband was jailed while trying to mount a candidacy of his own, won the vote.

Tsikhanouskaya left the country for Lithuania shortly after the election due to security concerns.

On July 28, Tsikhanouskaya outlined for the first time the specific threats she faced from officials if she stayed in Belarus.

"They told me ‘Your husband is in jail and you will be also jailed for 15 years. We know where your children are, they will be transferred to an orphanage,’" Tsikhanouskaya said in an interview with BuzzFeed in explaining the reasons she left after officially filing an appeal against the official results of the presidential election.

"I have been told in horrible detail what women usually face in jail," Tsikhanouskaya added.

Thousands of Belarusians, including dozens of journalists covering the protests, have been detained and hundreds beaten in detention and on the streets.

Several protesters have been killed in the violence, and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some detainees.

Lukashenka has denied any wrongdoing regarding the vote and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.

The European Union, the United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have imposed sanctions on him and senior Belarusian officials in response to the "falsification" of the vote and postelection crackdown.

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    RFE/RL's Belarus Service

    RFE/RL's Belarus Service is one of the leading providers of news and analysis to Belarusian audiences in their own language. It is a bulwark against pervasive Russian propaganda and defies the government’s virtual monopoly on domestic broadcast media.