Belarus protest leader Maria Kolesnikova has been sentenced to 11 years confinement.
Maria Kolesnikova is a 39 years old political activist of Belarus who started a campaign against President Alexander Lukashenko due to his election manipulation in 2020. Lukashenko is the president of Belarus since its independence in 1994. He denied his election manipulation and arrested Maria Kolesnikova and his companion in campaign Maxim Znak who is also an opposition leader.
Maria Kolesnikova started her street protests against president Lukashenko in May 2020 which gained a lot mass participation. According to human rights activists, around 63,000 to 70,000 individuals took part in this protest against president Lukashenko. Maxim Znak also actively participate in the protest.
In September 2020, because of street protest, government sent state security agents to exile activist leader Maria Kolesnikova but she tore her passport at the Ukrainian border. After tearing her passport she was arrested by the authorities. For this act of bravery Gerashchenko said, “Maria Kolesnikova could not be taken out of the country because this brave woman took measures to prevent herself from crossing the border”. Besides the protest leaders many public protesters, journalists and bloggers were also arrested.
During an interview Maria Kolesnikova revealed that state security agents threated her that she would be removed from Belarus “alive or in bits” after hearing that she tore her passport at the Ukraine border. She further explained, “There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years”, and this was mentioned in complaint filed by her lawyer.
President Alexander Lukashenko also denied from resigning and neglected public opinion. He said, “No way I’m going to resign just like that”. He added, “I’ve been developing Belarus for a quarter of a century. I’m not going to give it all up.” This choice violated the sense of democracy in Belarus.
Both Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak were charged for extremisms and illegal attempt to seize power but they both denied this charge. On Monday, 6 September 2021, Maria Kolesnikova was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment while her companion in protest, opposition leader Maxim Znak was sentences for 10 years confinement. The lawyer of Znak explained to media that both would appeal their sentences.
An uproar started in the country after this judgment. This verdict also led to outcry in western countries. State Secretary of United States of America Antony Blinken called it “politically motivated conviction and shameful sentencing”. He also stated “These sentencings are further evidence of the regime’s total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus”.
British foreign minister Dominic Dhab also gave his statement against the conviction, he said, “The sentencing of Maria Kolesnikova and Maksim Znak shows the Belarusian authorities continuing their assault on the defenders of democracy and freedom.”
Poland foreign minister Marcin Przydacz interpreted sentencing of Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak as human rights violation. He tweeted, “This repression should not go unanswered.”
The Belarusian government stated in response that they didn’t violate human rights. They stressed that protestors were backed by foreign authorities whose main goal was to encourage forced revolution in the country.
On the other hand, verdict couldn’t kill the spirit of democracy in Kolesnikova. A footage from Belarusian channel Sputnik showed Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak in glass cage. Maria smiled and made her trademark heart sign to encourage her supporters.
An opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who has been exiled from the country also tweeted, “Maria and Maksim are heroes to Belarusians.”
Another figure Viktor Babariko who stood again Alexander Lukashenko in 2020 elections has also given the sentence of 14 years confinement.