Belarusian Vlogger Gets Another 15 Days In Jail As He Awaits Criminal Charges
HRODNA, Belarus -- Syarhey Tsikhanouski, a jailed Belarusian vlogger who is seeking to take part in an August presidential election and facing criminal charges, has been sentenced to additional 15 days in jail on a charge of "disobeying the police."
Tsikhanouski took part in the July 1 hearing in a court in the western city of Hrodna via video link from a detention center in Minsk, the capital.
He rejected the charge and called it politically motivated.
The Lenin district court found Tsikhanouski guilty of refusing to follow the orders of a police officer in Hrodna on May 29 during rallies held to collect signatures for potential independent presidential candidates, including himself.
The court sentenced him to 15 days in jail.
Tsikhanouski’s supporters in the courtroom chanted, "Shame! Shame!" and "Down with the judge!" after the ruling was pronounced.
Tsikhanouski was first arrested in late May and sentenced to 10 days in jail for taking part in the unsanctioned rally in Hrodna.
He was set to be released on June 8 after completing the sentence but he was kept incarcerated and said a day later that he and seven others had been charged with "the organization and preparation of actions that severely violated public order," a reference to the May 29 rally.
If convicted, Tsikhanouski and the seven others in the case may face up to three years in prison.
Tsikhanouski is the owner of a popular YouTube channel called The Country for Life, which challenges the Belarusian authorities.
In mid-May, the Central Election Commission rejected Tsikhanouski’s registration documents for his candidacy for a presidential election scheduled for August 9.
Since Tsikhanouski’s candidacy was rejected, his wife, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has been trying to get registered as a candidate herself, collecting the necessary 100,000 signatures to qualify.
Amnesty International has recognized Tsikhanouski and another jailed potential presidential candidate, Viktar Babaryka, and his son Eduard as prisoners of conscience.
Babaryka and his son were arrested on June 18 after the police questioned them on allegations of tax evasion and money laundering in connection with an investigation at Russian-owned Belgazprombank, where the elder Babaryka worked for 20 years.
Belarusian authorities on June 15 took control of the bank and arrested more than a dozen top executives on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
Babaryka is said to have compiled more than four times the number of signatures needed to be a candidate in the election.
Critics of incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been in power in Belarus for more than 25 years, say his government has shown little tolerance for dissent and independent media.
Several international and domestic rights groups, western governments and the United Nations experts have called on Belarusian authorities to stop persecuting political activists, rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers ahead of the presidential election.