Opposition activist Maryia Kalesnikava, reputed lawyer Maksim Znak get heavy jail terms

On Monday, a Minsk court has passed guilty verdict in the case of Maryia Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak, who contributed to Viktar Babaryka’s election campaign and then became the members of the board of the opposition Coordination Council established by opposition politician Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Маryia Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak in court. Photo: Deutsche Welle/Telegram

Kalesnikava and Znak were tried for ‘calling for actions aimed at harming the national security’ (Art. 361-3 of the Criminal Code); ‘conspiracy to seize state power in an unconstitutional way’ (Article 357-1); ‘establishing and ruling an extremist group’ (Article 361-1). The trial which kicked off on August 4 has been held behind the closed doors. The two defendants are known to have denied all the charges.

Today Maryia Kalesnikava has been sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment in a minimum security penal colony, Maksim Znak – to 10 years in a medium security penal colony, human rights centre Viasna reports.

She quoted Bakharevich, spoke about moral choice and conscience. Kalesnikava’s final plea

On 7 September 2020, Maryia Kalesnikava, an opposition activist and member of the might-have-been presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka’s team was kidnapped near the National Art Museum in Minsk. Unidentified people drove her away in an unknown direction. As it turned out later, the activist spent half a day in the Main Directorate for Combating Organised Crime and Corruption; then she was taken to the State Security Committee (KGB), where the chekists demanded she voluntarily depart from Belarus. According to her, several KGB officers voiced threats to take her life. A day later, Coordination Council spokesman Anton Radnyankou and secretary Ivan Krautsou who were forced out of Belarus gave a press conference in Kyiv. They told how the KGB failed to push Kalesnikava out the country. In the neutral zone, she destroyed her passport, jumped out of the car and returned to the Belarusian border.

Maksim Znak, a lawyer at Viktar Babaryka’s campaign office, a legal counsellor of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maryia Kalesnikava, was arrested on September, 9. In the wake of the 2020 presidential election and the brutal crackdown on protesters, he filed a complaint with the Supreme Court against the official election results and became a member of the board of the opposition Coordination Council set up by Tsikhanouskaya and her associates. Belarus’ Prosecutor General initiated criminal proceedings over establishing the Council, naming it a ‘threat to national security’. The authorities believe the body aims at seizing power in Belarus.

Imprisoned lawyer Maksim Znak nominated for Trarieux human rights award

In December, the Prosecutor General’s Office launched criminal proceedings over establishing ‘an extremist group’, being in control of it, financing its activities as well as conspiring against members of the Coordination Council, including Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Pavel Latushka, Volha Kavalkova, Syarhei Dyleuski, and other Belarusian activists.

Belarusian human rights watchdogs recognised Maksim Znak and Maryia Kalesnikava as political prisoners.