MINSK -- A court in Belarus has set June 24 as the date for the start of a trial of Belarusian video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a leading opposition figure who was arrested after expressing his willingness to challenge Alyaksandr Lukashenka in last year's disputed presidential election.
Tsikhanouski is married to Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who took over the election campaign after her husband's detention and ran against Lukashenka but has since been forced to flee Belarus out of concern for her safety.
Several opposition figures and political prisoners charged in Tsikhanouski's high-profile case are also going on trial on June 24 inside a detention center in the southeastern city of Homel on charges widely considered to have been trumped-up.
They include popular blogger and RFE/RL consultant Ihar Losik, as well as Mikalay Statkevich, Uladzimer Tsyhanovich, Artsyom Sakau, and Dzmitry Papou.
Relatives of Tsikhanouski and the other defendants told RFE/RL on June 15 that they had been officially informed of the date and location of the trial.
Tsikhanouski is accused of organizing mass disorder, inciting social hatred, impeding the activities of the Central Election Commission, and organizing activities that disrupt social order. If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Tsikhanouski was the owner of a popular Belarusian YouTube channel called The Country For Life when he announced his willingness to run against Lukashenka early in 2020. He had used the channel to challenge and criticize the Belarusian authorities.
He was arrested in May 2020 shortly after election officials rejected his candidacy. He has remained in pretrial detention since then.
His wife took over the election campaign and ran as a candidate in the August 2020 presidential poll. She became the main challenger to Lukashenka, who has been the autocratic ruler of the country since 1994.
The European Union and the United States refuse to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in the August 9 election.
The official election tally has been widely criticized as fraudulent. Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters claim that she won the vote.
The official results sparked months of mass protests.
Lukashenka has overseen a violent crackdown on the protesters which has seen thousands of people detained, including journalists working to cover the developments.
Many have been injured by baton-wielding riot police. There are also widespread allegations of systemic torture by authorities within Belarusian detention centers.
More than 1,800 criminal cases have been filed against demonstrators.
Tsikhanouskaya and other leading opposition figures have been forced from the country. She currently lives in Lithuania with her children.
Losik, who is among hundreds of political prisoners caught up in the crackdown, has been in pretrial detention since June 2020. He was initially charged with allegedly using his popular Telegram channel to "prepare to disrupt public order" ahead of the August election.
In April, he tried to slit his wrists and launched a four-day hunger strike after being informed of new, unspecified charges. He had previously launched a six-week hunger strike to protest the original charges.
RFE/RL President Jamie Fly on June 15 reiterated his call for Belarusian authorities to immediately release Losik and cease their "systematic targeting of journalists."
"On June 25, a year will have passed since Ihar Losik was unjustly seized in his own home by Belarusian authorities," Fly said.
"Since then, Ihar has endured mistreatment and psychological torture while in pretrial detention, which is about to be compounded by what can only be termed a show trial."