MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced a teenage couple to prison terms for painting slogans against strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, on the shields of riot police officers during ongoing protests.
The Kastrychnik (October) district court on January 22 sentenced Sofya Malashevich to two years in prison and Tsikhan Klyukach to 18 months. Both are 18-year-old students of a college in the western city of Brest.
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.
The court found Malashevich guilty of hooliganism, publicly insulting the country's president, and conducting activities that disrupted public order. Klyukach was found guilty of conducting activities that disrupted public order.
The charges stem from their participation in anti-Lukashenka protests in Minsk, during which Malashevich spray-painted anti-Lukashenka slogans on the shields of the riot police while Klyukach was filming her actions on his mobile phone.
Both pleaded guilty and asked the court to choose punishments other than prison terms.
Ongoing protests have rocked Belarus since Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner of an August 9, 2020 presidential election, which opposition and protesters say was rigged.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested during the demonstrations demanding Lukashenka's resignation. There have also been credible reports from rights groups of torture during the widening security crackdown, which has also seen the arrests of many independent journalists.
Lukashenka has denied any wrongdoing and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.