MINSK -- A co-chairman of the non-registered opposition Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, Paval Sevyarynets, has been sentenced to 15 days in jail over weekend rallies in Minsk in support of independent presidential candidates for an election scheduled for this summer.
The Frunze District Court in Minsk on June 8 found Sevyarynets guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned public event and sentenced him to 10 days in jail and gave the politician an additional five days for disobeying the police during the demonstrations.
Sevyarynets pleaded not guilty and called his incarceration illegal, stressing that the rally near Minsk's Kamarouski market on June 7 was organized by initiative groups supporting eight potential presidential candidates, which is allowed by the constitution during the pre-election period.
Sevyarynets is one of dozens of activists and politicians who were detained in Minsk and several other cities across Belarus during the rallies at which hundreds of demonstrators were collecting signatures necessary to register alternative presidential candidates for the election, scheduled for August 9.
Prospective candidates need to obtain 100,000 signatures to be considered for registration as a candidate.
Sevyarynets's trial was just one of many resulting from the weekend protests.
About 40 activists and politicians have faced administrative trials in Minsk and several other cities on June 8, the Vyasna (Spring) human rights center said.
In Minsk, activists Aleh Babrouski, Volha Mikalaychyk, and Valyantsin Fralou were sentenced to jail terms of between 14 and 20 days after courts found them guilty of taking part in an unsanctioned public event.
In the eastern city of Vitsebsk, activist Aleh Paulau was sentenced to five days in jail and his colleague Alena Yanushkouskaya was fined 1,080 rubles ($450) on the same charge.
Trials of others continue, Vyasna said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned last month that authorities in Belarus have intensified their crackdown on protesters, opposition bloggers, journalists, and other government critics with a "new wave of arbitrary arrests"ahead of the election.
On May 24, more than 1,000 demonstrators joined together in Minsk to oppose another term for Lukashenka in one of the biggest protests of the year in the country of around 9 million.
Critics of Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media.
The country has been the target of U.S. and EU sanctions over its poor rights record and lack of fair elections, but Belarus and the West have recently sought to mend ties to reduce Russia’s influence in the country.