MINSK -- The prosecutor at the trial of two activists in Belarus -- Valeryya Kastsyuhova and Tatsyana Kuzina -- has asked a court in Minsk to convict the two women and sentence them to 10 years in prison each as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent under authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The prosecutor's request to the Minsk City Court was announced on March 6, exactly one month since the trial of the two started in the Belarusian capital.
Kastsyuhova and Kuzina, who are considered political prisoners by rights groups, were arrested in June 2021 on charges of assisting actions aimed to seize power, calls for actions to damage the country’s national security, and inciting social hatred.
Their supporters call the charges politically motivated.
Kastsyuhova is a noted political observer, the founder and chief editor of the Our Opinion website, an editor of the Belarus Annually website, and the leader of an experts' group known as Belarus Under Focus.
Kuzina is the founder of the School for Young Public Administration Managers and an expert of the Bipart investigative group.
Separately on March 6, the Minsk City Court started the trial of 15 men and womenaccused of organizing an attempted arson attack at the house of a pro-government lawmaker, the chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, Aleh Haydukevich, in June 2021.
Three defendants in the case will be tried in absentia separately.
Many journalists, rights activists, and representatives of democratic institutions have been jailed in Belarus since an August 2020 presidential election where Lukashenka was officially announced as the winner.
Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests over the results and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition and many of its leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the crackdown.