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Opponent Viktor Babaryko, who intended to run in the August 2020 presidential election in Belarus against Alexander Lukashenko but had been arrested a few weeks before, was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in prison for corruption. The opposition denounces a “senseless sentence”.
A Belarusian court on Tuesday (July 6) sentenced former presidential candidate Viktor Babariko to 14 years in prison for corruption.
The 57-year-old former banker was considered upon his arrest as the most serious opponent of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose re-election in August 2020 sparked a historic but violently suppressed protest movement.
On the opponent’s Twitter account, Viktor Babaryko’s supporters specified that he will have to serve his sentence “in a penal colony of enhanced security”. “It is an insane sentence targeting an individual who had decided to get into politics and had become one of the leaders who woke the country from a long sleep”, reacted the opponent in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Telegram messaging .
Верховный суд приговорил Виктора Бабарико к 14 годам колонии усиленного режима.
Виктор Бабарико единственным из фигурантов дела Белгазпромбанка не признал вину, потому чтиновоникониковониковоника не признал вину, потому чтиновоникониконикониковоника Это в своих речах доказали и адвокаты.
– Виктор Бабарико (@viktar_babaryka) July 6, 2021
Viktor Babaryko was condemned for having received bribes “in significant quantity” and for money laundering, specified the Belarusian NGO Viasna while confirming this judgment of the Supreme Court.
The fact that the Supreme Court rendered this decision prevents Viktor Babaryko from being able to appeal. He was also sentenced on Tuesday to a fine of around 45,000 euros and banned from exercising managerial functions, according to an independent journalist present at the hearing.
A biased survey, according to Babaryko’s supporters
The prosecution maintains that Viktor Babaryko committed these crimes when he was at the head of Belgazprombank, a Belarusian subsidiary of a bank belonging to the Russian giant Gazprom. The prosecutor had requested 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence.
Seven other former employees of this bank, who pleaded guilty and testified against him, were sentenced to terms ranging from three to six years in prison, according to this independent journalist.
Defense lawyer Natalia Matskevia argued that the investigation was conducted without objectivity and violated the rights of the suspects. “We have learned of human tragedies and humiliations during the collection of testimonies,” said Natalia Matskevia.
The re-election of Alexander Lukashenko sparked an unprecedented protest movement last summer which brought together tens of thousands of demonstrators for months, sometimes hundreds of thousands, but was suppressed by mass arrests and police violence, marked by accusations of torture.
Viktor Babaryko’s closest advisor, Maria Kolesnikova, was one of three female figures leading the protest after the arrests of several declared candidates. She was imprisoned after refusing to go into exile and is being prosecuted for “conspiracy to seize power”. The other two, Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, who became the face of the opposition, and Veronika Tsepkalo, fled the country.
A crackdown on opponents
The conviction of Viktor Babaryko comes in a climate of all-out lawsuits against opponents, NGOs and journalists. The authorities notably blocked the country’s main independent media outlet, Tut.by, and arrested a dozen of its employees.
To denounce the crackdown, the European Union, the United States and other Western countries have adopted sanctions against Belarusian officials and key economic sectors in the country. “We can build a country with humanist values where the individual will be respected”, had launched Viktor Babaryko at the end of June, during his trial, saying that he believed in a “happy, honest and open Belarus”.
Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, was re-elected in August for a fifth term with officially 80% of the vote. None of the polls held in Belarus since his election has been recognized as fair by independent observers.
With AFP and Reuters