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Minsk Residents Handed Prison Terms For Commemorating Killed Protester

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Maksim Paulyushchyk appears in court in Minsk on November 27.

MINSK -- Two Minsk residents have been sentenced to two-year prison terms each for writing "We Will Not Forget" with paint on a sidewalk near a subway station where a protester was killed by riot police in August.

The Frunze district court in two different hearings found 26-year-old Maksim Paulyushchyk and 25-year-old Uladzislau Hulis guilty of hooliganism and sentenced them the same day.

Paulyushchyk's codefendant, 25-year-old Maria Babovich, was also found guilty of hooliganism and sentenced to 18 months of a parole-like restriction known as "limitation of freedom."

Hulis's codefendants, 42-year-old Dzyanis Hrakhanau and 25-year-old Ihar Samusenka, were convicted on the same charge and received 18 months in open prison each.

Individuals sentenced to terms in open prisons in Belarus live in special dormitories and work at state companies, usually industrial facilities, as free people. Their movements after work are restricted and they must stay in the dormitories after 10 p.m.

Paulyushchyk and Babovich pleaded guilty and asked the court to choose a punishment for them other than incarceration.

Hulis, Hrakhanau, and Samusenka pleaded partially guilty.

The five were arrested in October over taking part in renewing the inscription on the sidewalk on September 9.

The two trials started in late-November.

Human rights organizations in Belarus recognized the five activists as political prisoners and have demanded their immediate release.

Makeshift Memorial

Alyaksandr Taraykouski, a 34-year-old demonstrator, died on August 10 in protests against the results of a presidential election the day before that claimed incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka as the winner in a landslide. Opposition figures and many Belarusians immediately questioned the results, saying the vote was rigged.

Officials said at the time that Taraykouski was killed by an improvised explosive device he was trying to throw at riot police. However, graphic footage of his death appeared to contradict the official claims.

The site of Taraykouski's death near Minsk's Pushkin subway station has turned into a makeshift memorial where protesters gather regularly, bringing flowers and renewing the "We will not forget" inscription on the sidewalk.

Several protesters have been killed and thousands of people arrested during the ongoing protests.

There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Most of the country's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, including opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who says she won the presidential poll.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge the election results and Lukashenka as the country's leader.

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