Wednesday, October 27

Jailed Belarus opposition leader wins European rights award

The Council of Europe on Monday awarded its top human rights award to jailed Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who was arrested last year after tore up her passport at the border to prevent her forced removal from the country.

Earlier this month, a Minsk court found her guilty of conspiring to seize power, create an extremist organization and call for actions that damage state security and sentenced her to 11 years in prison.

At a ceremony in Strasbourg, France, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe awarded him its ninth Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, which recognizes the outstanding action of civil society in the defense of human rights. The prize has a value of € 60,000.

Belarus was rocked by months of protests after President Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He ordered a major crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by the police.

“By opposing a regime that has opted for force and brutality against peaceful and legitimate protests, Ms. Kolesnikova demonstrated that she is willing to risk her own safety for a cause greater than herself; she has shown true courage “said the president of the assembly, Rik Daems. when he presented the award.

Accepting the award on behalf of her sister, Tatsiana Khomich said: “This award is a sign of solidarity of the entire democratic world with the people of Belarus. It is also a signal to us Belarusians that the international community supports us and that we are on the right track. “

Kolesnikova, 39, has been a key opposition activist. He appeared at political rallies, fearlessly walking into the ranks of riot police and making his signature gesture: a heart formed by his hands.

The former flute player of the Belarusian Philharmonic Orchestra led the campaign of Viktor Babariko, the director of a Russian-owned bank who made an offer to challenge Lukashenko, but was excluded from the race after being jailed on charges of money laundering and tax evasion that he dismissed as a politician.

Kolesnikova then joined forces with former English teacher Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran in place of her imprisoned husband Sergei, an opposition blogger, as the leading candidate against Lukashenko, and Veronika Tsepkalo, the wife of another potential contender who fled the country. for fear of being arrested. .

The three appeared together at colorful campaign events that contrasted with Lukashenko’s Soviet-style rallies.

In September 2020, KGB agents brought Kolesnikova to the Belarus-Ukraine border in an attempt to expel her. In the neutral zone between the two countries, she managed to break her passport, got out of the car and returned to Belarus, where she was immediately arrested.

The Council of Europe has 47 member countries, including Russia, but not Belarus, and is the main human rights body on the continent. It is not part of the European Union.

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