US condemns conviction of Belarus opposition candidate

A Minsk court jailed opposition leader for five years on charges of protests.

Washington: The United States condemned on Saturday`s "politically motivated" conviction of a top Belarus opposition presidential candidate, stressing it considered him and other detained candidates to be political prisoners.

A Minsk court jailed opposition leader Andrei Sannikov for five years on charges of organizing protests after the disputed re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The incumbent swept the December election with almost 80 percent of the vote, but the poll was slammed as flawed by observers.

"The United States condemns the May 14 conviction of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and other democratic activists in Belarus," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Sannikov, 57, is the most prominent of five candidates who face jail over their protests, and Sannikov was the first to receive a verdict.

Amid highly emotional scenes, four other younger defendants -- the youngest only 19 -- were handed sentences of up to three-and-a-half years in the same trial in Minsk.

"We consider the five presidential candidates... and other activists, who are being tried after being arrested as part of the crackdown related to the December 19 presidential elections, to be political prisoners," Toner said.

The spokesman added that Washington considered the harsh sentences and ongoing trials to be "clearly politically motivated," and called on Belarus to immediately release all political prisoners and end human rights violations against critics of the government.

"The results of ongoing trials will be taken into account as the United States continues to review its relations with Belarus and consider further measures," Toner said.

Bureau Report

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