A court in Belarus sentences 20 analysts to prison terms on charges of conspiracy

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A court in Belarus has sentenced 20 political analysts to prison terms of at least 10 years each after convicting them in absentia of conspiracy to overthrow the government and taking part in an extremist group.

The analysts all live outside Belarus, but could be imprisoned upon returning to the authoritarian state.

The convictions and sentences announced on Monday come as a relentless crackdown has put many prominent opposition figures in prison and forced others to leave Belarus.

The crackdown began after mass demonstrations gripped the country following the August 2020 election whose disputed results gave a sixth term to President Alexander Lukashenko, who came to power in 1994.

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

Those convicted include Ryhor Astapenia, director of the Belarus Initiative at the U.K.’s Chatham House foreign affairs institute; Yauheni Kryzhanouski, associate researcher at the University of Strasbourg, and Katsiaryna Shmatsina, a policy analyst at Virginia Tech University.

Dozens of rights groups and independent news media have been shut since the crackdown began. Those imprisoned earlier include Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Viasna human rights group and a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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