A court in Belarus has sentenced world champion kickboxer Alyaksey Kudzin to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of assaulting a security officer during a pro-democracy protest following a disputed election a year ago.
The Maladzyechna district court near Minsk on August 11 pronounced the verdict and sentence against Kudzin, a mixed martial arts fighter nicknamed "the Brick."
Kudzin was detained in Moscow in January after fleeing to Russia in the autumn of 2020.
Russia extradited Kudzin to Belarus in July despite concerns the athlete may be politically persecuted and tortured.
The August 9, 2020, presidential election awarded authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka a landslide sixth term, sparking an unprecedented wave of protests amid allegations the vote was rigged.
A day after the vote, Kudzin attended a pro-democracy rally in the central town of Maladzyechna, where security forces attacked protesters with tear gas and batons.
During the melee, Kudzin allegedly knocked out a security officer.
The fighter was later arrested near a hospital, where he had gone to treat his injuries.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
While in detention, he was allegedly beaten and shot with rubber bullets before being released on house arrest two weeks later.
He then fled to Russia, skipping his trial in November.
Mass protests against Lukashenka have been met with the heavy-handed detention of tens of thousands of people, with much of the opposition leadership being jailed or forced into exile.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested during mass demonstrations demanding Lukashenka's resignation. There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and media outlets.
On August 9, the Belarusian PEN Center, an association of writers, said that the Supreme Court had officially shut down the group, which is led by Svetlana Alexievich, the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature.
The group has criticized Lukashenka and his government for the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy activists and organizations.
The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the presidential election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime, most recently on August 9, the one-year anniversary of the disputed vote.