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A Belarusian court sentences 20 analysts to prison on conspiracy charges

A Belarusian court sentences 20 analysts to prison on conspiracy charges

TALLINN, Estonia — A court in Belarus has sentenced 20 political analysts to prison terms of at least 10 years each. They were convicted in absentia of conspiracy to overthrow the government and participation in an extremist group.

The analysts all live outside Belarus but could be jailed if they return to the authoritarian state.

The convictions and sentences announced on Monday follow a brutal crackdown that has seen many prominent opposition figures jailed and others forced to leave Belarus.

The crackdown began after mass demonstrations took place in the country following the August 2020 elections, a disputed outcome that gave President Alexander Lukashenko, who came to power in 1994, a sixth term.

Alexander Dabravolski, a top adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was sentenced Monday to 11 1/2 years. The sentences for the other defendants, including Tsikhanouskaya’s press secretary Anna Kasulina, ranged from 10 to 11 years.

Those convicted include Ryhor Astapenia, director of the Belarus Initiative at the British Foreign Office Chatham House; Yauheni Kryzhanouski, assistant professor at the University of Strasbourg, and Katsiaryna Shmatsina, a policy analyst at Virginia Tech University.

Dozens of human rights organizations and independent news outlets have been closed since the crackdown began. Those previously jailed include Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Viasna human rights group and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.