MINSK -- The prosecution has asked a Belarusian court to sentence Viktar Babaryka, a former Belarusian banker whose bid to challenge authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in last year’s disputed election was halted by his arrest, to 15 years in prison on corruption charges he says are politically motivated.
Prosecutor Syarhey Hirhel on June 22 asked the court to convict Babaryka on charges of bribe taking and money laundering.
Hirhel also asked Judge Ihar Lyubavitski to sentence seven co-defendants in the case to prison terms between three years and six years.
Babaryka, a former senior manager at the Russian-owned Belgazprombank, was arrested in June 2020 after he announced his intention to run for president.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Three days before the arrest, Belarusian authorities took control of the bank and detained several top executives on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
Babaryka has rejected the charges saying they were invented by authorities because of his political activities.
The trial is being held in the premises of the Moscow district court in Minsk by judges from the country's Supreme Court, a move that has been criticized by Babaryka and his defense team, who said that would deny them any chance of appeal in case of a guilty verdict.
Lukashenka was declared the victor of the August 2020 election, triggering protests by tens of thousands of Belarusians who say the vote was rigged. The demonstrations lasted for months as Belarusians demanded Lukashenka, in power since 1994, step down.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands and pushing most leading opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the August election.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka, 66, as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.