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Belarusian Athlete Alena Leuchanka, Who Supported Anti-Lukashenka Protests, Jailed


Belarusian basketball player Alena Leuchanka

MINSK -- Basketball player Alena Leuchanka, one of Belarus's best-known athletes, has been sentenced to 15 days in jail for taking part in ongoing protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Judge Maryna Zapasnik of the Lenin district court in Minsk sentenced Leuchanka on September 30 after finding her guilty of violating regulations on public gatherings.

Earlier in the day, Leuchanka, a member of the Free Association of Athletes (SOS BY) movement, was detained at the Minsk airport as she attempted to leave the country for medical treatment.

Leuchanka is one of the best-known Belarusian athletes, having played basketball for the national team, as well as in Russia's Superleague and the WNBA in the United States.

In August, nearly 350 Belarusian athletes and other members of the sports community threw down the gauntlet to Lukashenka by signing an open letter calling for an August 9 presidential election to be annulled and for all "political prisoners" and those detained during mass demonstrations that followed to be released.

The demonstrators say the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor and are demanding that he step down and hold new elections.

Lukashenka, who has refused to negotiate with the opposition, had himself secretly sworn in on September 23, sparking outrage at home and abroad.

Western governments have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have called on him to peacefully transfer power.

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