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Belarusian Activist Jailed Over Postelection Protests

Belarusian opposition activist Dzmitry Bandarenka has been jailed for two years for organizing mass protests.
Belarusian opposition activist Dzmitry Bandarenka has been jailed for two years for organizing mass protests.
MINSK -- A campaign worker for a former Belarusian presidential candidate has been jailed for two years in connection with the mass protests that followed December's disputed presidential election, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Minsk's Pershamay district court handed down the sentence on April 27 to Dzmitry Bandarenka for "organizing mass actions that violate public order."

Bandarenka was a member of the campaign team for candidate Andrey Sannikau, who went on trial on similar charges on the same day.

Bandarenka pleaded "partially guilty" on April 26 and asked the judge to make a decision "in accordance with law and [his] conscience." The prosecutor had asked the judge to jail Bandarenka for three years.

On December 19, former opposition presidential candidates and thousands of their supporters gathered on Minsk's Independence Square to challenge the official results of the presidential elections, according to which incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was announced the landslide winner. Hundreds were beaten and/or arrested then.

Several activists were jailed for participating in the protest.

Bandarenka's wife Volha told RFE/RL that "any verdict against a person who is not guilty is a harsh action."

"My husband is not guilty but he was sentenced. That means he a political prisoner, like all the others who are being tried in that case," she said.

Former opposition presidential candidate Ryhor Kastusyou condemned the verdict on Bandarenka. He said the Belarusian authorities are currently cleaning up the political scene in the country in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. He said new presidential elections will be held in a little over four years.

Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the A Just World party, told RFE/RL that Bandarenka's trial and his verdict were unjust. He added that anyone charged with that kind of crime, even if he or she is found guilty, could be just fined, but Bandarenka was sent to jail, which means the whole case is politically motivated.

"The regime is trying to frighten the opposition and the whole nation so that nobody will dare to express his or her opinion publicly, but that is the path to nowhere," Kalyakin added.

Halina Yuryna, also a member of Sannikau's election campaign team, described the verdict against Bandarenka's as absurd.

"We did not come to Independence Square to stage some sort of riot," she said.

"We came there to celebrate our victory because we were sure that our candidate won the election and the real results had been tampered with by the authorities.

"In any civilized country, citizens can easily express their thoughts and opinions through public gatherings, and that is what we did."

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