A Belarusian court jailed a drummer for six years on Thursday after his band played at mass protests in the wake of disputed presidential elections last year, a rights group said.
Belarus was for months gripped by weekly demonstrations demanding the resignation of strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who claimed a landslide victory in the August vote that his opponents said was rigged.
The 66-year-old has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for over two decades and moved quickly to stamp out protests following the vote.
Alexei Sanchuk, 30, was arrested in the capital Minsk in November, along with several other members of a marching percussion band that were often seen at protests.
They were sentenced to 15 days in jail for taking part in unauthorized protests, but Sanchuk was held following the sentence and slapped with several criminal charges.
On Thursday, a court in Minsk found him guilty of organizing and participating in protests and sentenced him to six years in a penal colony, the Viasna rights group said.
He was accused of blocking traffic, waving a red-and-white flag — a symbol of the Belarus protest movement — and encouraging protesters to clap their hands, among other acts that allegedly breached public order.
Viasna said the musician was reported to have been beaten after his arrest and was forced to appear in a video confession that was shown on state-run television.
Sanchuk has a wife and an eight-year-old daughter.
While the historic protests that left at least four people dead have by now subsided, journalists and activists continue receiving prison terms in the aftermath.
Belarus’ ‘Peaceful Revolution’ Is Neither Pro-Russian Nor Anti-Russian
Exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya told the EU parliament on Tuesday that a “peaceful revolution” was under way in Belarus after huge protests broke out over disputed presidential elections.
The strongman leader of ex-Soviet Belarus Alexander Lukashenko claimed a sixth term in Aug. 9 elections that sparked historic street rallies and a violent police crackdown condemned by rights groups and Western leaders.
“A peaceful revolution is taking place,” Tikhanovskaya, 37, told EU parliamentarians, speaking in English via video link from Lithuania, where she fled after claiming victory in the ballot, fearing reprisals from the authorities.
The trained English teacher who was allowed to contest the vote after her husband was jailed and barred from running said that the mass protest movement had no geopolitical aims.
“It is neither a pro-Russian nor anti-Russian revolution. It is neither an anti-European Union nor a pro-European Union revolution. It is a democratic revolution,” she said.
Lukashenko, Europe’s longest-serving leader, detained his closest rivals in the run-up to the vote which he barred independent observers from monitoring.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets since election officials announced that the 65-year-old authoritarian leader had won a landslide victory with some 80% of the ballot.
Tikhanovskaya described the largest protests in Belarus’s post-Soviet history as “a peaceful striving of the people for self-determination and basic dignity.”
“The demand of Belarusians is simple: a free and fair election,” she said. “This is the wish of the whole nation.”
Several members of the opposition’s Coordination Council that is seeking new elections have been arrested in recent days or summoned for questioning after Lukashenko accused them of attempting to “seize power.”