Leading Belarusian opposition politician Andrei Sannikov has been sentenced to five years hard labour for “organising mass disturbance”. Sannikov, the leader of European Belarus, was detained after protests against the disputed re-election of Alexander Lukashenko on 19 December last year. The trial of Sannikov’s wife Irina Khalip, a journalist with Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, began last week.
The 57-year-old former diplomat was reported to have said “take care of my family” as he was led from the court. Attempts have been made to take Sannikov and Khalip’s young son, Danil, into state custody.
In an earlier statement in court, Sannikov claimed he had been tortured while held in the Belarusian KGB’s notorious “Amerikanka” detention centre.
Four other opposition activists were sentenced today for taking part in “mass disturbances”: Oleg Gnedchik was sentenced to three-and-a-half years, while Fedor Mirzayanav, Vladimir Yaromenak and Ilya Vaselevich each received sentences of three years.
Mike Harris, Public Affairs Manager of Index on Censorship said: “The imprisonment and torture of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov is Europe’s shame. Belarus is degenerating to its Soviet past, Sannikov was jailed simply for attending an opposition rally. His wife is also on trial for attending this protest and the government attempted to take his three- year-old son into care.”
He added: “Europe must use all tools at its disposal including stopping Western banks and the IMF financing the regime. Putting presidential candidates in jail in Europe in 2011 is not acceptable.”
In his final speech before the verdict former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov said: “I love my family more than life. I love Belarus. I love freedom very much. I know that my family and all the people of Belarus will be happy when we become free, but this is impossible without law and order.”