Belarus Puts Opposition Leader on Trial for Treason in Her Absence

Belarus on Tuesday put the country’s main exiled opposition leader on trial in absentia for treason, in the latest crackdown on dissent against the country’s autocratic ruler.

The opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is based in Lithuania and works to coordinate opponents of Belarus’s government from abroad, described the trial as a “farce.” She said her government-appointed defense lawyer had not responded to her efforts to get in touch.

Belarusian state media said on Tuesday that Ms. Tikhanovskaya and four other exiled opposition figures were accused of “plotting an unconstitutional seizure of state power,” “inciting social hatred,” and other crimes.

President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a dictator who has ruled Belarus since 1994, forced Ms. Tikhanovskaya into exile in 2020 after she ran for president. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest after Mr. Lukashenko declared himself the winner of the ballot, which was widely denounced as fraudulent. The government put down the monthslong uprising with extraordinary force, with the backing of neighboring Russia, Belarus’s main ally.

Ms. Tikhanovskaya ran for president in place of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular blogger, who announced his own presidential run in May 2020 and was arrested days later. He remains in prison in Belarus.

This week, Ms. Tikhanovskaya is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where she told participants that her trial only offered further evidence of the Lukashenko government’s “crimes against the people of Belarus,” according to her Telegram account. Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north and Russia to the west, is Russia’s main international ally and served as a staging ground for Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly 11 months ago.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko have met repeatedly in recent months — most recently on Dec. 27 in St. Petersburg — and there has been intense speculation that the Belarusian army could join the fighting on Russia’s side. But Ms. Tikhanovskaya said in Davos this week that she did not believe that Mr. Lukashenko would risk the public backlash that could ensue if he were to send troops to Ukraine.

“Lukashenko’s regime isn’t sure that if he sends troops to fight with the Russian army to Ukraine, the Belarus people won’t change sides, hide or betray him, so the status quo is comfortable for Lukashenko and Putin,” Ms. Tikhanovskaya told the Reuters news agency on Monday.

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