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Two Russians Go On Trial In Belarus Over Election Protests

Russian political activists Ivan Gaponov (left) and Artyom Breus sit in the dock during a court hearing in Minsk on February 22.
MINSK -- The trial of two Russian citizens arrested following December protests questioning Belarus's presidential election has begun in Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Artyom Breus and Ivan Gaponov pleaded not guilty to participation in "mass disorder" on Minsk's Independence Square on election night, December 19.

The two were arrested along with hundreds of Belarusian opposition activists who gathered to protest the initial results of the vote, in which incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was the runaway winner. Several opposition presidential candidates were also arrested and jailed.

Breus and Gaponov were released on December 29 but rearrested the same day and officially charged with participation in "mass disorders."

The Russian Embassy in Minsk alleged earlier this month that Belarusian secret services "exerted pressure" on Breus and Gaponov during their investigation.

Gaponov's mother, Sabira Atakishieva, told RFE/RL that although she is concerned about her son, she is "very proud of him and other defendants who remain in Belarusian jails."

In all, 42 men and women have been officially charged with organizing and/or participating in the "mass disorders in Minsk on December 19." They include five opposition presidential candidates, three of whom are still in custody.

Opposition activist Vasil Parfyankou was found guilty earlier this week of participation in the "mass disorders" and sentenced to four years in jail.

Read more in Belarusian here and here