Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was the main challenger against President Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus’ 2020 elections, denounced a trial in absentia against her as a “farce.”
In Davos, Switzerland, where the 2023 World Economic Forum is taking place, Tsikhanouskaya urged Western nations to bolster support for Belarus’ beleaguered opposition.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus shortly after the 2020 vote under pressure from authorities. She said she learned about her trial, along with those of four other leading opposition figures, through media reports. She faces charges of high treason, conspiracy to seize power and undermining national security. She could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
“It looks like farce,” Tsikhanouskaya said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In December 2021, Tsikhanouskaya’s husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of organizing mass unrest and inciting hatred, which he rejected. He was first jailed in May 2020.
In July 2021, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met with President Biden at the White House. Afterward, he tweeted that “The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department imposed visa restrictions on more than two dozen Belarusian government officials in response to Tsikhanouskaya’s trial in absentia, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the latest example of ” efforts to intimidate and repress those who seek justice, respect for human rights, and a democratic Belarus.”
After the 2020 elections, Tsikhanouskaya and other opposition activists rejected as fraudulent the official results that handed Lukashenko a sixth term in office. The vote triggered months of unprecedented mass protests, the largest of which saw about 200,000 people taking to the streets of the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Lukashenko’s government responded with a violent crackdown, arresting more than 35,000 demonstrators and brutally beating thousands.
Currently 1,438 people in Belarus are in prisons on politically motivated charges, according to human rights groups.
Meanwhile, Belarus’ military is conducting joint drills with its close ally Russia, nearly 11 months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.