Leading opposition figures went on trial in Belarus Wednesday, part of a multi-pronged crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet nation that was rocked by months of protests
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Published: 2021-08-04 08:37 am
'Freedom is worth fighting for': Belarus activists on trial
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Leading opposition figures went on trial in Belarus Wednesday, part of a multi-pronged crackdown on dissent in the ex-Soviet nation that was rocked by months of protests

Maria Kolesnikova, a top member of the opposition Coordination Council, has been in custody since her arrest in September. She is accused of conspiring to seize power, creating an extremist organization and calling for actions damaging state security.

The trial of Kolesnikova and lawyer Maxim Znak, another leading member of the Coordination Council who faces the same charges, started Wednesday at the Minsk Regional Court in the Belarusian capital.

“Freedom is worth fighting for. Do not be afraid to be free,” she wrote in last year's message from prison conveyed by her lawyer. “I do not regret anything and would do the same again.”

Just as Kolesnikova and Znak went on trial, a Belarusian Olympic sprinter flew from Tokyo to Europe after resisting an attempt by her team’s officials to forcibly send her home to Belarus after a dispute over coaching. The 24-year-old runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she could be in danger if she returns to her homeland.

Belarus was shaken by months of protests fueled by President Alexander Lukashenko's being awarded a sixth term after the August 2020 presidential vote that the opposition and the West denounced as a sham. He responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Authorities have ramped up their crackdown on dissent in recent weeks, targeting independent journalists and democracy activists in hundreds of raids.

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Follow all AP stories on developments in Belarus at https://apnews.com/hub/Belarus.

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