West News Wire: Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leader of the exiled opposition in Belarus, was found guilty of treason and conspiring to seize power and was given a 15-year prison sentence. She claims that this decision is retribution for her efforts to advance democracy.

40-year-old Tsikhanouskaya, a former English teacher, fled to the neighboring country of Lithuania in 2020 after competing against president-elect Alexander Lukashenko in a contest that the official results indicated Lukashenko won handily.

At the time, she and the opposition claimed that the results had been rigged to give Lukashenko the victory. Large-scale protests were sparked by rage over the official results.

After a savage crackdown on protesters, Lukashenko, a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, charged the opposition with planning to overthrow the government. Important opposition leaders and activists were detained, and some fled the country.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus for nearly 30 years. During the mass protests, his government detained more than 35,000 people.

The authorities put Tsikhanouskaya, the opposition’s de facto leader, on trial in absentia in January, accusing her and other opposition figures of trying to seize power in an unconstitutional manner.

Belta, the state news agency, said a court in Minsk had sentenced Tsikhanouskaya on Monday to 15 years in a prison camp.

The same court handed an 18-year prison sentence to Pavel Latushko, a prominent member of the Belarusian opposition council, and 12-year sentences to three other activists convicted of being part of the same plot, Belta reported.

All of them left Belarus after the protests erupted in August 2020.

“15 years of prison. This is how the regime ‘rewarded’ my work for democratic changes in Belarus,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

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