MINSK -- Noted Belarusian blogger Eduard Palchys has gone on trial amid an ongoing crackdown on those who have challenged the official results of last year's presidential election that handed victory to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka despite opposition claims the balloting was rigged.
Palchys refused to stand up when Judge Pyatro Arlou of the Minsk City Court entered the courtroom on December 6, saying he does not recognize the process as fair.
The judge in turn declared that the trial will be held behind closed doors "to prevent the distribution of extremist materials present in the case."
Palchys was arrested in September last year and sentenced to 30 days in jail on a charge of violating the law on mass gatherings. After serving his sentence in October 2020, officials did not release Palchys and instead he was charged again, this time with incitement of social hatred, organization of mass disorder, organization of activities that disrupt social order, and calls for activities that aim to damage the country’s national security.
If found guilty, Palchys faces up to 12 years in prison. He has rejected all of the charges calling them politically motivated.
Palchys is one of many in Belarus who have faced trials in recent months as authorities brutally suppress dissent in any form since the disputed presidential election in August 2020.
Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged to extend Lukashenka's 26-year rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.
Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.
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 police crackdown.