Belarus’ highest court on Wednesday opened a trial of a bank executive who had aspired to challenge the country’s authoritarian president in last year’s vote but was blocked from running due to criminal charges that he rejected as political.
Viktor Babariko, the former head of Russia-owned Belgazprombank, has been jailed since June on corruption and money laundering charges. He has dismissed the accusations, saying they were intended to prevent him from running against President Alexander Lukashenko.
The 57-year-old Babariko could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
In a statement released before the trial opened, Babariko denounced what he called “medieval repressions” against the opposition in Belarus but added that “for many of us, the past year was a year of victory over the slavery of our own souls.”
Official results from the Aug. 9 presidential election gave Lukashenko a sixth term by a landslide, triggering massive protests. The main opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and her supporters have dismissed the result as rigged. Some poll workers also have described seeing the vote manipulated.
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Authorities have responded to demonstrations, the biggest of which attracted up to 200,000 people, with a sweeping crackdown. According to human rights advocates, more than 30,000 people have been detained since the protests began, and thousands of them were brutally beaten.
The United States and the European Union have responded to the election and the crackdown by introducing sanctions against Belarusian officials.