TALLINN, Estonia -- A leading Belarusian political activist was handed a 25-year prison sentence on Monday for opposing President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime, the latest move in a relentless crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet nation.
Mikalay Autukhovich was convicted and sentenced by a Belarusian court on charges of plotting a terror attack, high treason and a conspiracy to seize power. Along with Autukhovich, 11 other activists in Belarus were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2½ to 20 years.
Autukhovich, 59, is a former military officer and a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He has helped the opposition raise funds for their efforts to oppose Lukashenko, who has ruled the ex-Soviet nation with an iron hand for more than 28 years.
Lukashenko has brutally suppressed months of protests that were fueled by his being awarded a sixth term in office in a 2020 presidential vote that was widely seen as rigged. More than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police.
Investigators accused Autukhovich and others who faced trial alongside him in the western city of Grodno of setting alight a car belonging to a police officer in and blowing up a vehicle owned by another policeman in 2020.
Autukhovich has repeatedly gone on hunger strikes to protest his arrest.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition challenger to Lukashenko in the 2020 vote who was forced to leave the country under pressure, noted that Autukhovich received the longest sentence that was ever given to a political prisoner in Belarus. She called his conviction “shameful.”
"Of course, all political prisoners will be free when the dictator is gone and it won’t be 25 years!” she said on Twitter.
The Viasna human rights center said Belarus has 1,340 political prisoners.