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Belarusian Businessman Goes On Trial On Controversial Tax Evasion Charge.

MINSK -- A court in Belarus has begun the trial of businessman Alyaksandr Vasilevich, who has been charged with tax evasion, a move many activists say is politically motivated.

Judge Maryna Fyodarava ruled at the start of the trial on January 24 that the proceedings will be held behind closed doors.

Vasilevich was arrested in late July 2020 after he and others came to the building of the Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB) demanding the release of Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who had been arrested for alleged corruption.

Vasilevich was sentenced to 14 days in jail for taking part in an "unsanctioned public event."

In August 2020, Vasilevich was rearrested and later charged with tax evasion.

In September 2020, human rights groups in Belarus recognized Vasilevich as a political prisoner.

Vasilevich is one of many Belarusians who have faced trials linked to mass protests against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka following a controversial presidential election in August 2020 in which Lukashenka claimed reelection even though many Belarusians say the poll was rigged.

The protests were met with the heavy-handed detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.

Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and media outlets.

The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the presidential election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country's legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime.

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