Belarus Opposition leader Tikhanovsky jailed for 18 years over protests

A Belarusian opposition leader who rallied mass protests against disputed leader Alexander Lukashenko has been jailed for 18 years.

Sergei Tikhanovsky was convicted of organising riots among other charges following a trial condemned as a sham.

He planned to challenge Mr Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, but was detained before the vote.

His wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, took on Mr Lukashenko, who claimed victory in the widely discredited poll.

She claimed victory herself in the August election but, fearing for her safety, was forced into exile with her children the next day.

On Tuesday, Ms Tikhanovskaya questioned the validity of the court that tried her husband and said his sentence amounted to “revenge” by Mr Lukashenko.

“While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won’t stop,” Ms Tikhanovskaya wrote in a tweet.

Ahead of the verdict, she said she would keep “defending the person I love” in a Twitter video, which showed children’s drawings in the background.

Belarusian state news agency Belta said the verdict was delivered at a court in the south-eastern city of Gomel on Tuesday.

State newspaper Sovetskaya Belarus said five other opposition figures tried alongside Mr Tikhanovsky were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 16 years. Among them was veteran politician Mikola Statkevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

They are the latest opposition figures to be jailed in Belarus following a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices who challenged Mr Lukashenko’s election win.

Mr Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994 and defied months of protests last year as opposition politicians and activists were arrested and held in prison.

Mr Tikhanovsky is now one of hundreds of political prisoners thought to be held in Belarusian jails. Among them is protest organiser Maria Kolesnikova, who was found guilty of crimes including plotting to seize power and jailed for 11 years in September.