by Tom Balmforth and John Irish
(Reuters) – The trial in absentia of Belarusian opponent in exile Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, accused of treason, opened on Tuesday in Belarus.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, 40, fled Belarus after running against Alexander Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, which was followed by massive protests over alleged voter fraud. She faces a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
The opponent of Alexander Lukashenko now lives in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. She told Reuters in the Swiss Davos station that she did not expect the trial to be fair.
“In Belarus there is no honest trial. We live in absolute anarchy in our country, so tomorrow’s trial will be a farce and a show, but not real justice,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said Monday during of an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
During the trial, which began on Tuesday according to the national news agency BelTa, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and several other people will be tried for treason and attempted seizure of power, the court said before the start of the trial.
“Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, while she was on the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, declared herself the winner of the last elections (…) and the only national leader elected by the Belarusian people”, according to the general prosecutor’s office.
A day before the start of the trial, Belarus filed new criminal charges against her husband Sergei Tikhanouski, a 44-year-old high-profile blogger, who was arrested in 2020 while trying to run for office against Alexander Lukashenko .
His arrest prompted Svetlana Tikhanovskaya to come forward in his place.
Human rights defenders estimate that around 1,500 people are imprisoned in Belarus for political reasons. In power since 1994, Alexander Lukashenko is a close ally of Russia.
The trial of Belarusian activist Ales Bialiatski, co-winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, opened in early January in Minsk where he is being prosecuted for “illegal financing of demonstrations” and “money laundering”, leaders who could earn him up to 12 years in prison.
(Reporting Tom Balmforth in Kyiv and John Irish in Davos; French version Kate Entringer, editing by Blandine Hénault)