2 ex-presidential candidates jailed in Belarus

AP News
Posted: May 26, 2011 1:46 PM
2 ex-presidential candidates jailed in Belarus

Two presidential candidates who challenged the autocratic president of Belarus in last year's election were sentenced to jail Thursday.

A district court in the capital, Minsk, sentenced Nikolai Statkevich and Dmitry Uss to 6 and 5 1/2 years, respectively, in a maximum security jail, for "organizing mass disorder."

"If one has to suffer for (participation) in the election, I am ready," Uss said after the verdict.

Thursday's court ruling also gave five opposition activists prison terms of 3 to 5 years.

All the defendants said they were tortured while awaiting trial.

Statkevich and Uss they were among seven opposition candidates who were arrested along with about 700 protesters after police dispersed a demonstration that protested fraud in last December's election. President Alexander Lukashenko was declared winner with nearly 80 percent of the vote that was largely viewed as rigged.

Following his victory, Lukashenko orchestrated a sweeping crackdown on opposition and critics.

In earlier cases, another former presidential candidate was sentenced to five years in jail and two others were given suspended sentences. About 30 opposition activists were given prison terms of two to five years.

Under Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator," the nation of 10 million retained a Soviet-style state-controlled economy while also repressing opposition activists and independent news media.