Belarus: opposition presidential candidate sentenced to 5 years hard labor

Andrei Sannikov, a candidate in Belarus's December 2010 presidential elections, was today sentenced to five years in prison. Index on Censorship:

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Sannikov claimed during the trial that he had been tortured, denied access to legal representation and that KGB officers threatened to kill his wife, journalist Irina Khalip, and three year-old son, Danil.

In a post-election clampdown on the country's opposition, seven of the nine presidential candidates who stood against President Alexander Lukashenko were arrested. Ales Mikhalevic, another candidate, fled the country after also accusing the KGB of torture. Index on Censorship is part of a coalition of NGOs supporting a private prosecution of President Lukashenko.

Sannikov claims that prisoners at "The Amerikanka", an infamous KGB jail in Minsk, were being psychologically conditioned to violence in an echo of the Soviet-era tactic. Prisoners were shown anti-Semitic films such as Russia With A Knife In Its Back, clips of Chechen rebels being decapitated and the dismembering of children's corpses.

Read (or listen to) the final speech Sannikov gave before the verdict.

Excerpt:

I love my family more than life. I love Belarus. I love freedom very much. I know that my family and all the people of Belarus will be happy when we become free, but this is impossible without law and order.

Four other opposition activists were today sentenced their roles in what the Lukashenko administration labels "mass disturbances": Oleg Gnedchik was sentenced to 3.5 years, and Fedor Mirzayanav, Vladimir Yaromenak and Ilya Vaselevich each received sentences of 3 years.

More coverage: Washington Post, Associated Press,, BBC News.

Related: in The Independent, a bizarre link between the Lukashenko crackdown and... McDonalds.