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Belarus Has Sentenced Its Exiled Main Woman Opposition Leader To 15 Years In Prison For “Treason”

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for treason and conspiracy to seize power.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’ exiled main opposition leader, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia for treason and conspiracy to seize power.

belarus election Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya gestures to supporters during her campaign rally in Minsk on July 30, 2020. (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

The 40-year-old ran against authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 and is believed to have won.

However, she was forced to flee after Lukashenko was declared the winner by a large margin.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya belarus election lukashenko
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya casts her ballot at a polling station during the presidential election in Minsk on August 9, 2020. (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

Tsikhanouskaya had sought election after her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was the previous candidate, was arrested two days following announcing his intention to run against Lukashenko, who has allegedly won every election since 1994.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya belarus husband Sergei Tikhanovsky
Belarus opposition leader-in-exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya holds up a photo of her detained husband Sergei Tikhanovsky at the the “Courage” premiere during the 71st Berlinale International Film Festival Summer Special at Freiluftkino Museumsinsel on June 11, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Clemens Bilan – Pool/Getty Images)

During the campaign, Tsikhanouskaya said she had been threatened with arrest and having her children taken away if she continued to seek office.

In August 2020, Lukashenko was declared the winner of the election, which was widely regarded as rigged. Tsikhanouskaya said she did not believe the results and filed a complaint with the Central Election Commission but was detained for seven hours as a result.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya belarus election president
Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (C), accompanied by Veronika Tsepkalo (L), the wife of opposition figure Valery Tsepkalo, who was barred from running for presidency, and Maria Kolesnikova, Viktor Babaryko’s campaign chief, gestures to supporters during her campaign rally in Minsk on July 30, 2020. (Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

After being released, she chose to go into exile in Lithuania out of fears of safety for her children.

Some of Belarus’ largest protests broke out to oppose Lukashenko’s re-election but were met with a brutal police crackdown.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya election speech belarus
Belarus’s exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a speech on June 03, 2021 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Days later she fled, state media released a video of Tsikhanouskaya, where she conceded defeat and called for an end to the protests.

However, many have said the video was coerced.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya president belaraus
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, presidential candidate in Belarus elections 2020, makes the symbol of victory in a rally in Minsk. (Photo by Celestino Arce/NurPhoto)

Lukashenko has since jailed all of the country’s prominent opposition figures, including Tsikhanouskaya’s husband, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

In July 2021, Viktor Babariko, another presidential hopeful, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption after being arrested before election day.

In September, Maria Kalesnikava, a prominent opposition leader who led the demonstrations along with Tikhanovskaya, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for extremism and conspiring to “seize state power in an unconstitutional way” that threatens national security.

Tsikhanouskaya has rejected the court’s legitimacy.

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Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the exiled opposition leader of Belarus, attends protest action against political repressions in Belarus on October 1, 2020 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Arturas Morozovas/Getty Images)

“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.

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