Sergei Tsikhanousky, the husband of Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana, given 18-year jail term

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By Euronews  with AFP
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, holds a picture of her husband, facing trial in Belarus, while addressing the Czech Senate in Prague, June 9, 2021.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, holds a picture of her husband, facing trial in Belarus, while addressing the Czech Senate in Prague, June 9, 2021.   -  Copyright  Vondrous Roman/CTK Pool Photo via AP

The husband of Belarus' main opposition leader has been handed an 18-year jail term.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said her partner Sergei -- a blogger and critic of disputed president Alexander Lukashenko -- was given the sentence on Tuesday.

He was one of six men on trial behind closed doors since June, accused of "preparation of mass disorder" and "incitement to hatred".

The 43-year-old, who regularly denounced corruption and Lukashenko whom he dubbed "a cockroach" in his video, was arrested in late May 2020 as he was campaigning for the election.

Mikola Statkevitch, 65, a former presidential candidate in 2010 who spent several years in prison before this case was given a 14-year jail sentence; Artiom Sakov and Dmitry Popov, who were part of Tsikhanovski's team were handed 16-year sentences; Vladimir Tsyganovich, a Youtuber critical of the government and Igor Lossik, a 29-year-old opposition journalist, were both sentenced to 15 years in jail.

"The very existence of these people is a crime for the regime. They're repressed for the wish to live in free Belarus," Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in exile since shortly after the August 2020 presidential election, wrote on Twitter.

She added: "The dictator publicly takes revenge on his strongest opponents. While hiding the political prisoners in closed trials, he hopes to continue repressions in silence. But the whole world watches. We won't stop."

Virtually no information was released about the closed trial. Defense lawyers were forbidden to speak or risk losing their right to practice. Even the prosecution's submissions are not known.

Statkevitch's wife, Marina, told the Viasna NGO that "the guys held on and looked great" at the verdict.

"Sergei Tsikhanousky asked to convey that no person had testified against them in six months of trial," Viasna reported her as saying.

Ahead of the verdict, Tsikhanouskaya, who ran in the August 2020 presidential contest against Lukashenko following her husband's arrest, released a video vowing "to do the impossible to ensure we meet in the new Belarus as soon as possible."

"I can imagine these numbers (on years to be spent in jail), and I understand that psychologically accepting it will be hard. But be it one year, or 20, or 100 — it is unacceptable," she said from exile, adding: "What I will do is keep defending my loved one, who has also become the leader for millions in Belarus."

Lukashenko's regime sought to remove any threat to his bid for a sixth term ahead of the election but the opposition claim Tsikhanouskaya won the ballot while official results gave the incumbent 80% of the vote.

The European Union and United States have branded the election fraudulent and imposed sanctions on high-ranking Belarusian officials for the violent repression of the mass pro-democracy demonstrations that followed the plebiscite.

As many as 30,000 were arrested during the protests, with some declaring they'd be subjected to torture. The regime has also cracked down on independent media and non-profit oganisations, branding them "extremist" outfits and ordering their closure.

According to the Viasna NGO, there are currently 920 political prisoners in Belarus.

Brussels, Washington and other Western countries imposed another raft of sanctions against Belarusian individuals and entities earlier this month over the migration crisis at the Belarusian border They accuse Minsk of orchestrating the crisis by luring people from mostly Middle-eastern countries under the false promise that would then be able to cross into EU member states Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.