The United States condemns the politically motivated conviction and sentencing of Belarusian opposition members Maria Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak. Ms. Kalesnikava, a recipient of this year’s International Women of Courage Award, was given 11 years in prison for her courageous public support for candidates who challenged the 26-year rule of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Mr. Znak, who participated peacefully in the political campaign process, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Both had already endured nearly a year in pre-trial detention.
“Regrettably, these sentencings are further evidence of the regime’s total disregard for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Belarus,” declared Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Ms. Kalesnikava and Mr. Znak deserved a transparent judicial determination of the bogus charges levied against them, which they did not receive.”
As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belarus has committed to respect the right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial tribunal, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Like every citizen of Belarus, Ms. Kalesnikava and Mr. Znak are entitled to a fair and independent tribunal established by the law, in accordance with Belarus’ constitution and international human rights obligations.
The United States supports the Belarusian people’s aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future in a free and independent country. On August 9, the U.S. issued an Executive Order that holds the Lukashenka regime to account for its attacks on democracy and human rights, transnational repression, and corruption.
Secretary Blinken reiterated his “call for an end to the campaign of repression against the people of Belarus for exercising their human rights inside and outside Belarus and for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners – including Ms. Kalesnikava and Mr. Znak.” It is time for Belarusian authorities to begin a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition and members of civil society leading to free and fair elections with international observers.