Belarus rights group counts 900 cases against opposition

KYIV, UKRAINE(AP) — A human rights group said Thursday authorities in Belarus brought over 900 criminal cases carrying potential years-long prison sentences against opposition figures and protesters in connection with the country’s challenged presidential election and the anti-government demonstrations that followed.

The tally released by the Viasna human rights centre underlines the harsh response to dissent under President Alexander Lukashenko, who ruled Belarus since 1994 and claimed victory in last month’s election.

The charges in the cases include participating in or plotting riots and violence against police, Viasna said. The most serious offence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Protests, some attracting over 100,000 people, rocked Belarus since the August 9 election that official results said gave Lukashenko a sixth term in office but that opponents and some polls workers claim were manipulated.

Even before the protests, the government took extensive actions against opposition activists. One aspiring challenger was jailed and another candidate fled to Russia fearing imminent arrest.

Police officers run during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus. PHOTO: AP