This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A court in Minsk has convicted Yuras Zyankovich, a Belarusian-born lawyer who also holds U.S. citizenship, and four co-defendants of allegedly planning to assassinate authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his family and seize power in the country.
The Minsk regional court on September 5 sentenced Zyankovich to 11 years in prison. Political analyst and literature specialist Alyaksandr Fyaduta and the leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, Ryhor Kastusyou, were sentenced to 10 years each.
The three were convicted of plotting to seize power. Zyankovich was also found guilty of public calls to illegally seize power and creating an extremist group.
Two other defendants, Volha Halubovich and Dzyanis Krauchuk, were each sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for participating in activities that disrupt public order.
Zyankovich and Fyaduta were snatched off a street in Moscow and driven more than 700 kilometers to Belarus in April 2021.
Lukashenka claimed at the time without evidence that Zyankovich had formed a group that was part of a U.S.-backed assassination plot. Washington has denied the accusation.
Zyankovich did not enter a plea, but he reportedly said during the trial that he had agreed to cooperate with investigators. His wife has claimed the charges against her husband are ludicrous and that if he confessed, it was under duress.
Kastusyou pleaded not guilty to the charges, while Fyaduta pleaded partially guilty. Krauchuk and Halubovich pleaded guilty.
Five others accused of being members of the group are currently abroad.
Lukashenka, who was ruled Belarus for nearly three decades, has frequently accused Western countries of trying to topple him after he claimed victory in the August 2020 presidential election.
After the disputed election, Belarus was gripped by unprecedented protest and political turmoil.
Belarusian security forces arrested tens of thousands of people in a crackdown that has included accusations of beatings and other rights abuses. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against individuals and companies tied to Lukashenka’s government.
Most prominent opposition leaders have left the country.
The West has refused to accept Lukashenka’s proclaimed victory, and few countries, aside from Russia, acknowledge him as president of Belarus.