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‘We won’t stop’ Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya accuses Lukashenko of ‘taking revenge’ after Belarus sentences her husband to 18 years in prison

Source: Meduza
Sergei Grits / AP / Scanpix / LETA

A Belarusian court has handed an 18-year prison sentence to opposition blogger and politician Sergey Tikhanovsky — the husband of exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. The closed-door trial took place at a remand prison in the city of Gomel on Tuesday, December 14. Five other opposition figures were tried alongside Tikhanovsky, all of whom were handed sentences of 14 years in prison or more. After the verdict, Tikhanovskaya condemned Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko for “taking revenge on his strongest political opponents” and promised that her opposition movement would continue its work.

Belarusian opposition blogger and politician Sergey Tikhanovsky (Siarhei Tsikhanouski) has been sentenced to 18 years in a maximum-security prison, the Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Tuesday, December 14. 

Tikhanovsky was one of six people on trial at the closed-door hearing, which took place at a remand prison in the southeastern city of Gomel. The defendants, who are all prominent opposition figures and bloggers, received lengthy terms in maximum security prisons.

Artyom Sakov (Artsiom Sakau), a camera operator for Tikhanovsky’s YouTube channel “Country For Life,” was sentenced to 16 years behind bars — as was Russian citizen Dmitry Popov, who moderated the project’s social media accounts. The court handed 15-year sentences to video blogger Vladimir Tsyganovich (Uladzimir Tsyhanovich), known for his YouTube channel MozgON, and popular blogger Igor Losik (Ihar Losik), who worked for the opposition Telegram channel Belamova. And opposition politician Nikolai Statkevich (Mikalai Statkevich) was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

In addition, the court ordered the recovery of more than 2.5 million Belarusian rubles (more than $986,000) in material damages from the defendants.

“Under the banner ‘Country for Life,’ they tried to stage a spectacle before Belarusians about how an angry majority was going to take power. As the investigation established, methods of psychological combat, forgery, bribery of activists, and preparation for street warfare were used for this,” the Belarusian Investigative Committee stated after the announcement of the verdict. 

Sergey Tikhanovsky started his YouTube channel “Country for Life” in 2019. His videos gained popularity for his criticism of the Belarusian authorities, as well his interviews with opposition activists and residents of small towns across Belarus. In 2020, Tikhanovsky announced plans to run for president, but election officials refused to register his candidacy. So his wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya), registered to run in his place. Sergey headed up her team, but was arrested in May 2020 while collecting campaign signatures at a rally.

Meduza’s interview with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

‘This is a turning point in Belarusian history’ Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on how her presidential campaign is taking on Lukashenko

Meduza’s interview with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya

‘This is a turning point in Belarusian history’ Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on how her presidential campaign is taking on Lukashenko

With her husband in jail, Tikhanovskaya continued her presidential bid, becoming the only opposition candidate running against the incumbent, Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandr Lukashenka), who came to power in 1994. After the vote in August, election officials declared Tikhanovskaya the runner up, claiming that she had won 10 percent of the vote and Lukashenko had come in first with 80 percent. Tikhanovskaya refused to recognize the election results. She fled to Lithuania a few days later under pressure from the Belarusian authorities. Belarus saw unprecedented, large-scale protests against Lukashenko for several months after the vote.

The Belarusian authorities brought multiple charges against Sergey Tikhanovsky, accusing him of organizing mass riots and group actions that grossly violate public order, inciting social hatred “against representatives of the government and law enforcement agencies,” and threatening the head of the country’s Central Election Commission. According to state investigators, Tikhanovsky and his alleged accomplices provoked the opposition protests that followed the August 2020 presidential elections. 

In October 2020, Tikhanovsky spoke with his wife over the phone for the first time in four months. During their conversation, he told Tikhanovskaya “we need to be tougher.” 

“I don’t know what to expect but [it’s] definitely not justice,” Tikhanovskaya wrote on Twitter ahead of Tuesday’s verdict. In an interview with Dozhd television, the opposition leader speculated that her husband would be sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars. “But it’s not a matter of numbers. A year, five, eleven, twenty — these figures shouldn’t become real years of imprisonment for Belarusians,” she added. 

“Giving comments regarding Sergey’s so-called sentence, the only question I will ask myself is: What am I going to do with this? And what I will do is keep defending my loved one, who has also become a leader for millions in Belarus,” Svetlana said in a video statement released ahead of her husband’s sentencing. “I will be trying to overcome myself, to do the impossible to ensure that we meet in the new Belarus as soon as possible. I will keep sending him postcards and our children’s drawings, to make a memory book when we finally meet. And everything I do — I do to bring this very moment to life.”

After the verdict, Tikhanovskaya condemned Lukashenko for taking “revenge on his strongest opponents.” “While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence,” the opposition leader wrote in a tweet. “But the whole world watches. We won’t stop.” 

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Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart

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