Belarus protest leader Kolesnikova facing 12 years as trial starts

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Belarusian opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova appeared in court on Wednesday, 11 months after her detention amid last year’s election-rigging protests, to face charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government, according to local media.

Russian news portal Sputnik broadcast images of Kolesnikova in a black suit making the symbol of a heart with her hands, her trademark gesture.

“Masha is happy and always and full of energy,” said the Telegram channel of Viktor Babariko, another opposition leader who has been sentenced to time in a penal colony.

She was standing trial alongside Maxim Snak, an attorney. Both appeared in a glass box at the trial, which was open to state media but not to the families of the accused.

Kolesnikova could face 12 years of prison if found guilty.

She was a key force in leading demonstrations last year after large parts of society disputed an election win by President Alexander Lukashenko, leading to months of violent protests.

Election officials said Lukashenko won 80 per cent of the vote, clearing the way for his sixth term in office. Many of his opponents were jailed in the lead-up to the vote.

Prosecutors accuse Kolesnikova of illegally trying to grab power and of heading an extremist organization. Her supporters say the accusations are absurd.
Government officials attempted to deport her about a month after the protests started, but she tore up her passport at the Ukrainian border rather than being forced to leave the country.

Speaking to German broadcaster ARD, Kolesnikova’s father said: “I don’t expect any surprises and, of course, no fair verdict.”

He said it was his daughter’s own decisions that had landed her in jail and facing trial.

“Yes, this is a brave deed. Yes, it’s an heroic act and an example for many.”

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