Belarus jails former presidential contender

World Tuesday 06/July/2021 14:04 PM
By: DW
Belarus jails former presidential contender

More than a year after Belarusian opposition figure Viktor Babariko was arrested en route to register his presidential candidacy, a Minsk court sentenced him to 14 years in jail Tuesday.

Officially, Belarusian prosecutors accused Babariko of money laundering, bribery and tax evasion, which he denies.

Since the trial opened in February, Babariko has called his persecution an effort to silence him.

The US Embassy in Minsk put out a statement via tweet calling the court's decision a "cruel sham" that shows the "regime will stop at nothing to keep power."

Who is Viktor Babariko?

The 57-year-old is a prominent banker with Belgazprombank, a lender that is a subsidiary of Russia's state-owned Gazprom. Babariko was widely considered to be the most promising opponent of Lukashenko before last year's contested presidential election.

Weeks before the scheduled vote last August, Babariko was with his son and headed to the election commission to hand in signatures in support of his candidacy when he was arrested.

Belarusian strongman President Aleksander Lukashenko, considered the last dictator in Europe, had openly called for the country's authorities to act against his political opposition.

At the time of his arrest, Lukashenko had called Babariko a "rascal" who would fail at his act of victim and political prisoner.

A contested election that spawned hundreds of political prisoners

Lukashenko is no longer recognized by the EU as the legitimate ruler of Belarus.

The presidential election last August is widely viewed as a rigged effort to re-elect Lukashenko. Instead of cementing his control on Belarus, the situation in the country has spiraled out of control ever since.

The contested election sparked mass protests involving hundreds of thousands of Belarusians across the country. Tens of thousands were temporarily arrested, beaten and detained, with hundreds injured and several killed.

At present, it is believed there are 400 political prisoners in Belarusian jails.