(Moscow) The trial of one of the great figures of the 2020 protest in Belarus, Maria Kolesnikova, who is accused of trying to overthrow the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, opened behind closed doors in Minsk on Wednesday.
Posted on Aug 4, 2021 at 7:15 am Updated at 9:06 am
The hearing comes as the repression in Belarus was brought back to the fore by two cases abroad: the attempted forced repatriation of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the Tokyo Olympics and the suspicious death of activist Vitali Chychov, who was found hanged in Ukraine became.
The trial of Maria Kolesnikova also crowns months of gradual elimination of all protests in Belarus with mass arrests, forced evictions of opponents and the liquidation of a number of NGOs and independent media.
Imprisoned for 10 months, this major opposition figure is on trial against the Belarusian president together with his lawyer Maxime Znak. Both face up to twelve years imprisonment for “conspiracy to seize power” and up to seven years imprisonment for “calls for measures to undermine national security”.
Maria Kolesnikova was arrested in September after spectacularly resisting an attempt by the authorities to evict her from her own country. According to the opponent, she was kidnapped by the Belarusian Special Service (KGB) and then put a bag over her head to take her to the Ukrainian border.
She refused to leave her country, jumped out a window and tore up her passport, which resulted in her imprisonment.
“Power is afraid”
Maria Kolesnikova appeared on Wednesday, according to pictures of the trial published by a journalist close to the Belarusian power, in a black dress and her usual lipstick, smiling and dancing next to Maxime Znak, both in the defendants’ box.
In an interview published on Wednesday with the Russian opposition medium Dojd, she condemned the allegations against her as “absurd” and as evidence of the “arbitrariness” of power.
“The power is afraid of a transparent process in which everyone sees that the greatest danger and threat to Belarus, Belarus and national security is power itself,” she said.
Maria Kolesnikova and her co-defendant Maxime Znak worked for Viktor Babaryko, a rival of the Belarusian president who was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for fraud, a case he denounced as a politician.
Maria Kolesnikova and Maxime Znak were part of a seven-member coordination council that was set up after the presidential elections in August 2020, which were classified as fraudulent, to organize a peaceful change of power.
Ms. Kolesnikova was also one of three women appointed to lead the protest movement along with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, presidential candidate in place of her imprisoned husband, and Veronika Tsepkalo. The latter two fled the country under pressure from the authorities.
“We miss Macha and Maxime so much! Ms. Tikhanovskaya wrote on Twitter using the diminutive of Maria.
Thousands of demonstrators and opponents have been imprisoned or forced into exile since autumn 2020. Minsk is also accused of attacking refugees.
The most recent case is that Vitali Chychov, the director of an NGO that helps opponents of the Belarusian regime, was found hanged in Ukraine on Tuesday. His organization immediately accused Minsk of the assassination attempt when police came up with evidence of suicide or murder disguised as suicide.
The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi ordered on Wednesday that the protection of the Belarusian activists living in exile in his country should be guaranteed.
“Every Belarusian who can be a target of criminals because of his public political position must be given special protection,” he said in a statement, referring to threats against “several Belarusian activists”.
The Chychov case comes shortly after an incident at the Tokyo Olympics with Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who was threatened with forced repatriation for criticizing her association on social media. She said she was afraid of being detained in her country.
The Belarusian regime is also accused of hijacking a scheduled flight under the pretext of a bomb threat in May to arrest the dissident and journalist Roman Protassevich on board.