A former Belarusian presidential candidate was sentenced to fourteen years in prison on corruption charges after a “mock” trial.
Viktor Babariko, a former CEO of a Russian-owned bank, had planned to challenge the authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, in last year’s elections.
But he was arrested two months before the August 2020 vote, which drew thousands of protesters to the streets.
On Tuesday, the Belarusian Supreme Court convicted Babariko of bribery and money laundering, in a case that has been widely viewed as politically motivated.
The former candidate has been in detention since his arrest and denies the corruption charges against him. You will not be able to appeal the verdict and the 14-year sentence.
Babariko was also ordered to return 46 million Belarusian rubles (15 million euros) in damages, was imposed an additional fine of 45,000 euros and was banned from holding leadership positions, according to the human rights NGO Viasna.
His conviction is seen as the latest example of a fierce crackdown on critics of President Lukashenko, as Babariko was seen as the most serious challenger before last year’s elections.
Opponent supporters have said he would have to serve his sentence “in a prison colony with greater security.”
Several foreign diplomats, including the French ambassador to Belarus, were present at Babariko’s trial in Minsk on Tuesday.
At least two people were arrested by the police at the entrance to the court, according to Viasna.
“This is a meaningless sentence directed at an individual who had decided to pursue politics and had become one of the leaders who woke the country from a long slumber,” exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said in Telegram.
The court’s verdict has also been condemned by the US embassy in Belarus on Twitter.
“The cruel charade of the Belarusian judicial system is on display today … showing that the Lukashenko regime will stop at nothing to maintain power,” the embassy said.
The prosecution had claimed that Babariko had committed acts of corruption while in charge of Belgazprombank, the Belarusian subsidiary of the Russian giant Gazprom.
Seven other former bank employees, who pleaded guilty and testified against the trial, were sentenced to between three and six and a half years in prison, Viasna said.
Before his trial, Babariko had said that he still believed in the emergence of a “happy, honest and open Belarus”.
His closest adviser, Maria Kolesnikova, was one of three female figures who led the opposition protest after her arrest. She herself was imprisoned after refusing to go into exile and is being prosecuted for “conspiring to seize power”.
The disputed re-election of President Lukashenko has sparked unprecedented opposition demonstrations in Belarus and a violent crackdown that has led to the arrest of more than 35,000 people.
The European Union and other Western countries have adopted sanctions against Belarusian officials and key economic sectors in response to the actions of the authorities.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism