Protester jailed in Belarus for 10 years as UN warns of "human rights crisis"

Matthias Williams and Stephanie Nebehay
·3-min read

By Matthias Williams and Stephanie Nebehay

(Reuters) - A Belarusian court sentenced an anti-government protester to 10 years in prison on Thursday, media and activists said, on charges that the opposition says were trumped up as part of a crackdown to keep President Alexander Lukashenko in power.

Aliaksandr Kardziukou was convicted of attempted murder for attacking security forces who were trying to disperse nationwide protests that erupted last August following a contested election that extended Lukashenko's rule since 1994.

Kardziukou denied wrongdoing, according to local media reports, saying he was confronted by two plain clothes security forces who pulled a gun on him in the city of Brest and killed another protester, Henadz Shutau, as they tried to escape.

Shutau, who died after being shot in the back of the head, was convicted of attacking security officials while the man who shot him was recognised as the victim in the case.

"A peaceful protester Henadz Shutau was shot dead by siloviki (security forces) in plain clothes last Aug. His friend Aliaksandr Kardziukou witnessed it and ran away," exiled opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

"Today, a court sentenced Kardziukou to 10 years in prison. Murdered Shutau was called guilty, and his murderer was called a victim."

The court media press service in Brest, where local reporters said the hearing took place, was unavailable for comment.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko has launched a violent crackdown on protests that has triggered new Western sanctions on Minsk but support from Russia.

Top United Nations human rights official Michelle Bachelet warned on Thursday of a "human rights crisis of unprecedented dimension in the country", saying 246 people had been sentenced to jail on allegedly politically-motivated charges as of Feb. 9.

At the same meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council, 42 countries, including the United States, condemned what they called systematic and massive human rights violations in Belarus.

"The last six months have been tough to witness," UK representative Wendy Morton told the council. "The Belarusian people have had their democratic rights stolen. Over 30,000 people have been detained, over 400 journalists persecuted, over 250 political prisoners are in jail."

Minsk's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Yury Ambrazevich on Thursday criticised the report by Bachelet's office as "highly subjective and simplistic of its views of events in our country".

Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said on Tuesday that "dialogue and mutual understanding are required and not far-fetched accusations or threats".

Thursday's verdict is one of several recent trials of opposition figures and journalists. Last week two journalists were jailed for filming protests, prompting the European Union to consider more sanctions.

Also on Thursday a man was sentenced to 4.5 years in jail after throwing unknown objects in the direction of a road in Minsk last August, and a woman was jailed for eight months for biting a policeman, local media reported.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams in KYIV and Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA; editing by Philippa Fletcher)