A Belarusian court has sentenced the leading opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova to 11 years in prison, sparking outrage.
Kolesnikova was one of the leaders of mass street protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last year.
Kalesnikava was arrested last September and taken to the border, and asked then to leave the country.
Instead, she reportedly ripped up her passport, risking prison rather than going into exile.
She faces charged of conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security using media and the internet.
At the same court hearing, the lawyer Maxim Znak, another member of the opposition council’s leadership, was given a 10-year prison sentence on similar charges. He had gone on hunger strike while awaiting trial to protest against the charges against him.
“We demand the immediate release of Maria and Maksim, who aren’t guilty of anything,” wrote Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, an opposition leader who ran for president against Lukashenko. She is based in Lithuania and cannot return to the country without facing arrest.
Belarus regime has stepped up its crackdown against rights organisations, social media users, and journalists amid growing rights concerns.
More than 60 searches of the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organisations
and their staff reported between 14 and 16 July.
Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers
seized during searches.
Amnesty International also reported the closure of 46 human rights and other civil society
organisations in Belarus.
So far, 100 organisations have closed across the country.
Since his election as head of the state last year, Belarusian President Alexander
Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has launched an unprecedented
repression campaign against rights activists.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Viasna has documented at least 35,000 arbitrary arrests, 608 political prisoners and about 1,800 reports of torture.