[JURIST] The Minsk Central Court in Belarus [JURIST news archive] Friday sentenced four independent election monitors for their affiliation with an "unregistered" organization which infringed on citizens' rights. The four were members of the Partnership monitoring group, which had received monetary assistance from the US-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs [advocacy website]. The group had been planning to observe the controversial presidential election [JURIST report] in March, which resulted in five more years of power for incumbent Alexander Lukashenko [official website; BBC profile] amidst allegations of fraud, but the monitors were arrested prior to election day.
The election monitors were sentenced to prison for periods ranging from six months to two years, and their convictions have been criticized by the US State Department [official website] which called for Belarus to release all those imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Defeated presidential candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich [campaign website] also voiced his opposition against their detentions, saying they had received a "political punishment." AP has more.