Exiled opposition leader of Belarus Svetlana Sikhanovskaya.
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Belarus’ exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tsikanuskaya told CNBC she was “not surprised” by the court’s decision after she was sentenced to 15 years in a prison camp.
A Minsk court on Monday, which convicted Tsikhanskaya in absentia, found her guilty of treason and conspiracy to seize power.
“It was anticipated that Lukashenko would try to get revenge on me,” CNBC’s Dan Murphy told Tsikanuskaya on Tuesday after the verdict.
Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet country with an iron fist since 1994, has “underestimated the people’s will for change,” she said.
Tsikhanushkaya fled to Belarus after running against incumbent Lukashenko in the 2020 election, which has been marred by protests and arrests, brutal beatings and torture of thousands, according to Human Rights Watch, Lukashenko’s 2020 election victory, in which he claimed to have won 80% of the vote, was called a “deeply flawed and fraudulent presidential election”. many western governments, UN criticized Belarus “for police violence against peaceful protesters and journalists” following a “controversial presidential election”.
Sikhanskaya was forced into exile with her children a day after the 2020 vote. Her husband, Sergei, a former presidential candidate and critic of the president, was jailed for 18 years in 2021, and remains behind bars in Belarus.
“Our movement is unstoppable” Tsikhanouskaya told CNBC, vowing to fight on. She said that Lukashenko was wrong if he thought “the sentence would deter me or our movement.”
“We will continue to do what we do because our partners, our loved ones, our friends are actually behind bars,” Tsikhanovskaya told CNBC. 1,500 political prisoners Currently held by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus.
“We have to continue our fight to get them all released,” he added. Sikhanovskaya’s sentence comes just a week after Belarus sentenced Nobel laureate Ales Baliatsky to 10 years in prison.
Media across the country is closely monitored and journalists who dare to speak out against the regime are usually imprisoned. According to European Parliament“Reforms needed to provide for media freedom have never materialized. Instead, various laws over the years have curtailed the rights of independent journalists and imposed limits on both traditional and electronic media.”
Sikhanovskaya reiterated to CNBC that Belarusians should “look for information in alternative media sources” and continue their resistance “but safely”.
“Until Belarus is liberated, they will be a constant threat to Ukraine,” Tsikhanskaya told CNBC on Tuesday.
Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he allowed Russian troops to use his country as a staging area during an initial invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Last week, Lukashenko made a state visit to China despite warnings from US officials. Ukrainian military officials warned Belarus in October after Russia sent thousands of troops back into the country, raising fears of a joint incursion. Russia and Belarus increased military exercises in January this year, raising concerns that Russia is pressuring its closest ally to join the war in Ukraine.