MINSK -- Prominent Belarusian opposition leader Mikalay Statkevich and several bloggers have been sentenced to 15 days in jail as part of a widening crackdown on dissent in the country ahead of elections.
Statkevich was already sentenced on June 1 to 15 days in jail for taking part in an "unauthorized" opposition event in Minsk to collect signatures for petitions to support would-be candidates for the upcoming elections.
Opposition rallies and gatherings in support of would-be candidates have attracted thousands of people across Belarus in recent weeks ahead of the August presidential election in which authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seeking a sixth term.
Dozens of activists and politicians have been harassed and arrested.
Statkevich’s wife, Maryna Adamovich, wrote on Facebook on June 15 that her husband was sentenced to another 15 days in the absence of a lawyer.
Statkevich -- who challenged Lukashenka in the 2010 election, which was marred by allegations of fraud -- has been barred from running in the August election. He was previously sentenced to six years in prison and released in 2015.
Also on June 15, bloggers Eduard Palchys, Uladzimer Tsyhanovich, and Mikalay Maslouski were sentenced to 15 days for taking part in "unauthorized" events.
Another activist, Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in the August presidential election, may face up to three years in prison for organizing pro-democracy rallies.
Since Tsikhanouski's candidacy was rejected, his wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been trying to get registered as a candidate herself, collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify.
Investigators are also targeting Belgazprombank's former chief executive, Viktar Babaryka, who stepped down from the bank to run against Lukashenka.
On June 15, authorities took control of the bank, which is the local unit of Russia's Gazprombank, as part of a wider money-laundering and corruption probe that has already led to the arrest of 15 executives.
Babaryka says the raids are designed to apply political pressure on him.