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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: Exiled Belarus Opposition Leader Sentenced To 15 Years Jail Term In Absentia

A Belarus court has sentenced the country’s main opposition leader to 15 years’ jail in absentia.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled Belarus in 2020 after running against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko in presidential elections. She is widely thought to have won.

The charges included high treason and conspiracy to seize power.

Ms Tikhanovskaya said she was more worried about those with “real” – rather than absentee – jail terms.

She rejected the court’s legitimacy.

“Today I don’t think about my own sentence. I think about thousands of innocents, detained and sentenced to real prison terms. I won’t stop until each of them is released,” she said on social media.

Viasna, a leading Belarusian human rights group, says nearly 1,500 political prisoners are currently held in the country.

The court also handed an 18-year sentence to one of Ms Tikhanovskaya’s allies, former Belarusian culture minister Pavel Latushko, who is also in exile.

The decision comes just days after Belarusian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights campaigner Ales Bialiatski was jailed for 10 years, a move that prompted international condemnation.

Ms Tikhanovskaya stood in the August 2020 elections after her husband, former blogger and presidential candidate Sergei Tikhanovsky, was taken into custody. He was jailed for 18 years in 2021.

She claimed victory in the polls, which were widely thought to be rigged, but was forced into exile with her children the day after the vote.

Mr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and defied months of protests after the polls, arresting and jailing hundreds of opposition politicians and activists.

He is now a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has become increasingly reliant on Moscow for economic, political and military support.

He has hosted Russian forces and allowed them to use Belarus as a staging ground for its invasion of Ukraine.

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