(RTTNews) - A court in Belarus on Thursday sentenced an opposition activist to four years in prison for participating in a mass protest against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in the December elections which were deemed flawed by international monitors.
Vasily Parfenkov, aged 28, was the first opposition activist to go on trial over the December unrest. Parfenkov, who had campaigned for opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyayev in the disputed elections, was convicted of breaking a window at the parliament building during the violent unrest.
Earlier, prosecutors had demanded a six-year-prison sentence for the activist, claiming that he and fellow protesters had caused damages worth $4,670 (3,440 euros) to the parliament building during the unrest. Parfenkov had denied the charges.
Following his sentencing, the United States criticized the ongoing trials against those who took part in anti-government protests in Belarus after the disputed December elections as another "negative step" by the Belarusian government.
"The United States deeply regrets that the government of Belarus has begun the first trial of those detained for their involvement in the December 19th protest," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Thursday, reiterating the previous US and international calls for the "immediate unconditional release of all detainees."
Incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected for a fourth term with a landslide majority in the December 19 elections. Declaration of the results followed violent anti-government protests in the capital with thousands of opposition supporters taking to the streets alleging electoral fraud behind Lukashenko's victory.
Police and KGB agents detained more than 600 protesters, including five presidential candidates, in a crackdown on the opposition protests. The five candidates and 42 other opposition activists were charged later with inciting mass disorder for organizing the post-poll protests that turned violent.
The move had prompted the United States and the European Union to call for the immediate release of the presidential candidates and the demonstrators who were taken into custody in the crackdown on the post election protests in the former Soviet Republic.
But a refusal by the Belarusian regime to oblige to their demands prompted the EU to impose an asset freeze and visa ban on 156 top officials of the Minsk government in wake of the brutal crackdown on the opposition activists.
Hours after the European Union announced its sanctions on January 31, the United States followed suit by imposing fresh sanctions on the Belarusian government over its refusal to release the detained opposition activists.
The new US sanctions expanded the list of Belarusian officials already slapped with travel and financial restrictions, and revoked a temporary authorization for American companies to do business with two subsidiaries of Belneftekhim-- Bealrus' largest state-owned petroleum and chemical conglomerate.
Following the latest US and EU sanctions, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry warned that it would respond with with "proportionate" measures "aimed at strengthening Belarusian sovereignty, maintaining stability and consolidating Belarusian society." But it did not specify the measures.
by RTT Staff Writer