MINSK -- A court in Belarus has handed lengthy prison terms to 11 activists as authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's crackdown against pro-democracy activists, the independent media, and civil rights groups continues to intensify.
Belarus has been mired in turmoil since a disputed presidential election in August 2020 that gave Lukashenka his sixth consecutive term in power.
Belarusian security forces in recent weeks have ramped up repression against media and human rights organizations, drawing even greater criticism from Western countries that have already slapped several rounds of sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime.
A court in Minsk on July 19 found Paval Nyadayla, Rastsislau Stefanovich, Yauhen Prapolski, Alyaksandr Reznik, Syarhey Plonis, Artsyom Mitsuk, and Alyaksandr Yurchyk -- the only person not recognized as a political prisoner among others in the group -- were sentenced to eight years in prison after the court found them guilty of taking part in mass disorders and damaging private property.
Stefanovich and Plonis are members of the Coordination Council, a body set up by the political opposition to facilitate the transfer of power in Belarus following a presidential election in August 2020 that the opposition says was rigged and the West has refused to accept.
Artsyom Kasakouski, Dzmitry Lastouski, and Dzmitry Zheburtovich were found guilty of taking part in mass disorders and sentenced to five years in prison.
The court also found Yury Byalko guilty on the same charges and additionally convicted him of illegal activities using a firearm and sentenced him to nine years in prison.
All of the defendants have rejected the charges.
In a separate trial at a different court in Minsk, four others who have been recognized by rights groups as political prisoners, Uladzislau Barysau, Yan Falkin, Uladzimer Matsyukh, and Mikita Litvinenka, were sentenced to prison terms of between 3 1/2 and five years for their participation in anti-Lukashenka rallies in August.
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 2020 election considered fraudulent.
Lukashenka was declared the victor of the August 2020 election, triggering protests by tens of thousands of Belarusians who say the vote was rigged. The demonstrations lasted for months as Belarusians demanded Lukashenka, in power since 1994, step down and hold fresh elections.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands and pushing most leading opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the vote.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka, 66, as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.