An opposition leader was convicted Thursday of organizing an unauthorized rally against the disputed election of Belarus’ authoritarian president and sentenced to 5½ years in jail, his lawyer said.
Alexander Kozulin, one of two opposition politicians to run in the March 19 election, was not present in the courtroom to hear his sentence because he was ordered removed earlier, said lawyer Igor Rynkevich.
Kozulin, in his final comments in court, denounced his trial as “unfair” and called the judge “an executioner.”
The 50-year-old former bureaucrat has been jailed since leading the protest march six days after the disputed vote, which officials said President Alexander Lukashenko won by an overwhelming margin. The opposition condemned the balloting as rigged.
Riot police broke up that march, beating demonstrators with truncheons.
Western nations called the vote undemocratic and have since imposed travel and financial sanctions on Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, and called for Kozulin’s release.
Lukashenko, branded “Europe’s last dictator,” has ruled the isolated former Soviet nation of 10 million since 1994, quashing dissent, jailing opponents, and extending his time in office through votes widely considered illegitimate.
Kozulin’s lawyer said the outcome of the trial violated judicial ethics and complained that his client had been kept the whole day in “inhuman conditions,” in a small glass cage inside the court.
Alexander Milinkevich, who also ran for the presidency and is widely regarded as the leader of the beleaguered opposition, opposed Kozulin’s calls for more aggressive protests after the election.
Some Western officials have also called for Lukashenko’s regime — and Russia’s support for him — to be on the agenda of the summit of the Group of Eight leaders, scheduled to begin this weekend in St. Petersburg.