MINSK -- Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in an August presidential election, may face up to 3 years in prison for organizing pro-democracy rallies.
The Belarusian Investigative Committee said on June 9 on Telegram that Tsikhanouski and seven other persons had been charged "with the organization and preparation of actions that severely violated public order" in the western city of Hrodna, on May 29, a reference to rallies held to collect signatures for potential independent presidential candidates, including himself.
According to the statement, all of the suspects have been placed in pretrial detention, in accordance with a prosecutor's arrest warrant.
If convicted, Tsikhanouski and the other detainees face up to 3 years in prison. One of the individuals is also charged with assaulting two law enforcement officers and may face up to 6 years in prison if convicted.
Tsikhanouski was supposed to be released from jail on June 8 after finishing his 10-day incarceration for taking part in the unsanctioned rally on May 29.
He was not released and city authorities have said they will explain later why he remained in custody.
Tsikhanouski is the owner of a popular YouTube channel called "The Country for Life," which challenges Belarusian authorities.
Before his 10-day incarceration, Tsikhanouski was jailed in May for several days for organizing and taking part in other rallies.
On May 15, the Central Election Commission rejected Tsikhanouski's registration documents for his candidacy for the presidential election scheduled for August 9.
Since Tsikhanouski’s candidacy was rejected, his wife Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya has been trying to get registered as a candidate herself, collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify.
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.