- Viktor Babariko is a strong contender in Belarus’s 2020 presidential election.
- He was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption.
- Babariko was arrested two months before voting in August 2020.
A former competitor in Belarus’s 2020 presidential campaign was sentenced to 14 years in prison on corruption charges, a case widely regarded as politically motivated.
Viktor Babariko, the former chief executive of a Russian bank, is eager to challenge Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko in the controversial election last year.
But Barbarico was arrested two months before voting in August 2020.
Considered to be one of Lukashenko’s strongest opponents, he was sentenced by the Minsk Supreme Court on Tuesday.
His Twitter account, managed by his supporters, stated that he will serve in the “highest security colony” for 14 years.
His arrest attracted thousands of protesters to the streets.
Barbarico has been in jail since his arrest and has been politically motivated to reject the corruption allegations against him.
On Tuesday, he was convicted of bribery and money laundering when he was the head of Belgazprombank, the Belarusian branch of a bank of the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
In addition to long-term imprisonment, he was also ordered to pay compensation, fines, and barred from serving as a senior official.
He will not be able to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision.
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Lukashenko was re-elected for his sixth term last year and sparked several months of massive protests, the largest of which attracted 200,000 people.
The opposition refused to recognize the results of the election, saying the vote was rigged.
The authorities carried out a large-scale suppression of the demonstrations. According to opposition and human rights organizations, more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands were beaten by the police.
Most opposition leaders have been sentenced to prison or forced to leave the country.
The exiled opposition leader Svyatlana Zihanusskaya called the verdict “crazy” and said its purpose was to silence Barbarico.
“14 years of faith in an idea,” Qihanusskaya, who fled abroad after claiming to win a vote against Lukashenko, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “The regime is doing everything it can to kill our thoughts that are even very similar to hope.”
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk called this statement “false” and stated that it shows that “the Lukashenko regime will maintain power at all costs.”
According to the local independent rights organization Viasna, Western diplomats attended the hearing. After “dozens” of Barbarico supporters arrived at the building, the two were arrested outside the court, but were not allowed to enter the court.
The prosecutor requested a sentence of 15 years in prison, which is the highest possible sentence. Throughout the trial, Barbarico denied any wrongdoing.