MINSK -- A court in Belarus has set June 24 as the date for the start of the trial of Belarusian video blogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski -- a leading opposition figure who was arrested in 2020 after expressing his willingness to challenge authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in last year's presidential election.
Several opposition figures charged in the high-profile case are also going on trial on June 24 inside a detention center in the southeastern city of Homel. They include Mikalay Statkevich, Ihar Losik, Uladzimer Tsyhanovich, Artsyom Sakau, and Dzmitry Papou Relatives of Tsikhanouski and the other defendants told RFE/RL on June 15 that they have been officially informed about the date and location of the trial. Tsikhanouski is accused of organizing mass disorder, inciting social hatred, impeding the activities of the Central Election Commission, and organizing activities that disrupt social order. If found guilty, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Tsikhanouski was the owner of a popular Belarusian YouTube channel called "The Country For Life" when he announced his willingness to run against Lukashenka early in 2020. He had used the channel to challenge and criticize Belarusian authorities.
He was arrested in May 2020 shortly after election officials rejected his candidacy. He has remained in pretrial detention since then.
His wife Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya took over the election campaign and ran as a candidate in the August 2020 presidential poll. She became the main challenger to Lukashenka, who has been the autocratic ruler of the country since 1994.
The European Union and the United States refuse to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate president of Belarus after he claimed a landslide victory in the August 9 election. The official election tally has been widely criticized as fraudulent. Tsikhanouskaya and her supporters claim that she won the vote. The official results sparked months of mass protests.
Lukashenka has overseen a violent crackdown on the protesters which has seen thousands of people detained, including journalists working to cover the developments.
Many have been injured by baton-wielding riot police. There are also widespread allegations of systemic torture by authorities within Belarusian detention centers. More than 1,800 criminal cases have been filed against demonstrators.
Tsikhanouskaya left Belarus immediately after the vote fearing for her family's security. She currently lives in Lithuania with her children.
Most leading opposition figures have been forced from the country, while many of those still in Belarus have been detained by police.