Belarusian businessman and political activist Mikalay Autukhovich (file photo)
HRODNA, Belarus -- The high-profile trial of Belarusian businessman and political activist Mikalay Autukhovich, along with 11 others accused of terrorism, has started in the western city of Hrodna.
The trial started on May 18 at the Detention center No.1 in Hrodna, with Autukhovich and one of his co-defenders, Lubou Razanovich (eds: a woman), sitting in separate tiny metal cages in the courtroom that are designated for "the most dangerous defendants." The other nine defendants were placed in two wider metal cages. Autukhovich was charged with high treason, creating a criminal group and participating in its activities, attempting to power seizure, inciting social hatred, publicly calling for sanctions against Belarusian officials, preparing the implementation of a terrorist act, attempting a terrorist act, illegal activities involving weapons, ammunition, and explosives, and illegal weapons trafficking. If convicted, Autukhovich faces the death penalty or life in prison. The other defendants face the same charges, with the exception of high treason. Some were also charged with conspiracy and the preparation of actions to disrupt social order. Autukhovich and the other defendants were arrested in December 2020 in the wake of a crackdown on activists, opposition politicians, independent journalists and civil society following months-long rallies protesting the results of an August 2020 presidential poll that announced authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled the country since 1994, as the winner. Opposition members, protesters and the West have insisted that the election was rigged. Investigators say Autukhovich and his group conducted several arson attacks against vehicles belonging to police officers and planned attacks on their property. Autukhovich has rejected all of the charges. It is not known for public if any of his co-defenders pleaded guilty. Autukhovich previously spent 7 years and five months in prison on charges of illegal weapons possession, which he and his supporters rejected as politically motivated.