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Belarus Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova sentenced to 11 years in jail
Belarusian Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been leading street protests alongwith Maxim Znak against President Alexander Lukashenko's election, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday. Maxim Znak was jailed for 10 years.

MINSK, Sept 10: A Belarus court sentenced Opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova, who had been leading street protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, to 11 years in prison on Monday. She had been earlier arrested as part of a widespread crackdown on Government critics following protests after the election last year.

The trial for conspiring to "seize state power in an unconstitutional way" was held in the Capital Minsk behind closed doors. Activist Maxim Znak who was also charged, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Kolesnikova, a musician-turned-activist, was one of three women leading the Opposition's campaign against Lukashenko after prominent male Opposition candidates were barred from the presidential race last year. The Opposition alleged that the vote was rigged to extend Lukashenko's 27-year rule. Lukashenko, who denied electoral fraud, has faced sanctions by several countries.

"We demand the immediate release of Maria & Maksim, who aren't guilty of anything. It's terror against Belarusians who dare to stand up to the regime. We won't stop until everybody is free in Belarus," Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a Belarusian Opposition leader who ran for President and led protests with Kolesnikova, said on Twitter Monday. Tikhanovskaya, who stood in for her husband as an Opposition candidate when he was jailed in the run-up to the vote, fled to neighboring Lithuania.

The US and several European countries have condemned the court ruling sentencing Kolesnikova. The UK and Canada also announced additional sanctions on Monday.

In August last, on the anniversary of the Belarus election, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order imposing sanctions on Belarus for violations of human rights and imposing a fraudulent election on the people.

After elections last year as the Opposition protests continued, the Government blocked independent news websites. Local and international media men were detained on Freedom Square in Minsk for covering protests. Accreditations were cancelled.

Russia pointed out that foreign attempts to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs could further escalate tensions. Russia says if its recognising the election results in Belarus is interference in the affairs of that country, non-recognition of the results also amounts to an interference.

Lukashenko announced a week after the election that NATO forces were, "at the gates" and threatening the country (which was denied by NATO. prompting President Putin to offer to send in military assistance. Belarus and Russia are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russia-led military alliance of six former Soviet States.

Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Switzerland, EU, UK, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Switzerland and Ukraine had imposed sanctions on Belarus last year.

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