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Belarus jails two human rights activists

Belarus on Wednesday sentenced two members of the rights group Viasna to prison for their support of last year’s protests against the country’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the NGO said.

Leonid Sudalenko was handed three years in jail while his colleague Tatiana Lasitsa was jailed for two and a half years following a closed-door trial, Viasna said in a statement.

They were arrested for their support of mass demonstrations across Belarus following a disputed presidential election last year that saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term in office.

They were found guilty of “grossly violating public order” among other charges, Viasna said.

Viasna was founded in 1996 by Ales Bialiatski, one of the recipients of the 2020 Sakharov Prize awarded by the European Parliament, and is the ex-Soviet country’s most prominent rights group.

Sudalenko and Lasitsa have been held in pre-trial detention since their arrest in January.

After his arrest, Sudalenko said that authorities accused him in particular of helping protesters pay for lawyers and for organising a seminar on digital security.

The Lukashenko regime has cracked down on the demonstrations, arresting and forcing key activists into exile, and banned several media organisations and NGOs.

Also on Wednesday, Belarus declared the Poland-based television channel Belsat — which has a Belarusian language service and reported on last year’s protests — an “extremist” organisation, the interior ministry said on Telegram.

In February, two female Belsat reporters were jailed for two years over their coverage of the protests.

While the West has piled personal and economic sanctions on Lukashenko, his regime maintains political, military and financial support from Moscow.