Belarus: beginning of the trial in the absence of the opponent in exile Tikhanovskaïa

Belarus: beginning of the trial in the absence of the opponent in exile Tikhanovskaïa

The trial in absentia of Belarusian exile opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaia opened in Minsk on Tuesday, in full acceleration of the repressive machinery of Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime, whose pet peeve she has become.

A fugitive in Lithuania, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 40, is the target of a dozen charges including treason and “conspiracy to unconstitutionally seize power”.

In an interview with AFP on Monday, Ms Tikhanovskaya called this process a “farce” and “personal revenge” by Alexander Lukashenko on the one who shook his power in 2020.

Indeed, in the summer of 2020, Belarus was rocked by a historic protest movement to denounce the controversial re-election of the authoritarian leader who has been in power for nearly three decades.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran for president in place of her imprisoned husband, had gathered crowds across the country during the election campaign, raising hopes for change.

Forced into exile, what once presented herself as a humble housewife is now the face of democratic forces in Belarus and the pet peeve of a regime whose brutal abuses she tirelessly denounces.

Four allies in the enemy’s exile – Maria Moroz, Pavel Latouchko, Olga Kovalkova and Sergei Dylevski – will also be tried with her.

Her trial comes amid the intensification of Mr Lukashenko’s regime’s relentless repression in recent weeks, with a series of trials against opponents.

These processes usually take place behind closed doors, with the greatest possible opacity.

Ms Tikhanovskaïa therefore told AFP that she had contacted her court-appointed lawyer, but he had never responded. “I don’t even know what my so-called attorney is going to do in this court tomorrow (Tuesday),” she said.

“I don’t know how long this process will take, how many days, but I’m sure they will sentence me to many, many years in prison,” she added.

Full Throttle Suppression

If the opponent seems safe from Minsk prisons because of her exile, the Belarusian authorities have found another way to punish her by announcing on Monday a new trial against her husband, who is currently being held in Belarus.

Sergei Tikhanovski, a popular blogger who heavily criticized Mr Lukashenko, was sentenced in December 2021 to 18 years in prison, specifically for “organizing massive riots” and “inciting hatred in society”.

On Monday, Belarusian authorities announced that they had charged him with “insubordination” to the prison administration, a charge punishable by two more years in prison.

After the 2020 protest movement, the Belarusian regime launched a relentless crackdown on all critical voices with mass arrests, forced exiles and imprisonment of opponents, media representatives and NGOs.

According to the Viasna Center, the country currently has more than 1,400 political prisoners.

And more than two years after the events, the repression is in full swing.

In early January, a court began against Ales Bialiatski, a jailed democracy activist, co-recipient of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Viasna Center. Mr. Bialiatski and his associates face up to 12 years in prison.

Trials against several employees of the information site Tut.by, the main independent media in Belarus, including its editor-in-chief Marina Zolotova, also began behind closed doors.

And on Monday the closed trial of a Belarusian journalist, Andrzej Poczobut, a figure from the Polish minority, opened. He faces up to 12 years in prison for calling for international sanctions against Belarus.