MINSK -- Belarusian video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, who has been in pretrial detention since May, has been served with final charges that could see him imprisoned for up to 15 years after he expressed his willingness to take part in an August presidential election against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The Investigative Committee of Belarus said on March 11 that the investigations against Tsikhanouski, opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich, and their associates had been completed.
According to the final charges, Tsikhanouski is accused of organizing mass disorder, incitement of social hatred, impeding the Central Election Commission's activities, and organizing activities that disrupt social order.
Tsikhanouski was the owner of a popular YouTube channel called The Country For Life, which challenges Belarusian authorities, when he announced his willingness to run against Lukashenka early last year.
Shortly after Tsikhanouski’s candidacy was rejected by election officials, he was arrested in May 2020 and has been held in jail since as he awaited charges.
His wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, took over during the campaign and ran as a candidate in the presidential poll. She has turned into the main challenger to Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994.
The European Union and the United States have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in the August 9 election that has been widely criticized as fraudulent.
The results have sparked months of mass protests and have been contested by Tsikhanouskaya, whose supporters claim she won the vote, as well as opposition figures across the country.
Lukashenka has overseen a violent crackdown on the protesters, which has seen thousands -- including media members -- detained and scores injured.
Overall, more than 1,800 criminal cases have been launched over the protests against the official results of the presidential election.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus immediately after the vote fearing for her family's security. She currently lives in Lithuania with her children.
Most leading opposition figures have been forced from the country, while many of those still in Belarus have been detained by law enforcement.