Belarusian opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a Minsk court on charges of plotting to strike a coup, inciting actions that would undermine national security and create an extremist organization. In addition to her, another important opposition activist, Maxim Znak, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the same reason. Both had been in jail since September 2020, after being kidnapped by masked men under unclear circumstances.
Kolesnikova, who is 39, in August 2020 had supported the presidential candidacy of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and in the aftermath of the elections she had been among the main promoters of the large demonstrations organized to contest the victory of outgoing president Alexander Lukashenko, accused of fraud . After the elections, Tikhanovskaya had left Belarus and fled to Lithuania for fear of reprisals by the Lukashenko government against her.
Kolesnikova, on the other hand, had remained in the country and on 31 August 2020 announced that she would found a new opposition party together with the supporters of Viktor Babariko, a former banker who had tried to run for the presidential elections against Lukashenko but had been arrested earlier. of the elections.
Maxim Znak and Maria Kolesnikova awaiting the sentence of their trial on 6 September (Ramil Nasibulin / BelTA pool photo via AP)
On 7 September, one day after 100,000 people protested against the election results in Minsk for the fourth consecutive weekend, Kolesnikova disappeared and nothing more was heard of her for three days. On September 10, her lawyer said he met her in a detention center in Minsk and made it known that she was incarcerated on suspicion of attempted coup.
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Kolesnikova had told the lawyer that on the morning of September 7, after being kidnapped on the street in Minsk, she was told that if she did not leave Belarus she would still be taken out of the country “alive or in pieces” or that she would be jailed for 25 years old. After the activist’s refusal to leave the country, according to her testimony, a sack was placed on her head, she was loaded into a minivan and taken to the border between Belarus and Ukraine, where agents tried to force her out of Belarus. Kolesnikova, however, to avoid being expatriate, had tore her passport.