Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences on Friday to two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST report] of President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile, JURIST news archive] in December. The two-year suspended sentences [RFE/RL report] were handed down days after former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau [Free Belarus Now profile] was sentenced to five years [JURIST report]. The two remaining presidential candidates who were awaiting trial, Mikalay Statkevich and Dzmitry Vus, were also supposed to be given sentences Friday, but sentencing has been postponed indefinitely. Another candidate was released in January [JURIST report], and the seventh has fled Belarus to seek asylum in the Czech Republic. All of the detained protesters [Belarusian Helsinki Committee] are accused of violating Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus for inciting and participating in riots. Nyaklyaeu attributed his shortened sentence to the support with protesters of the US and the EU. The EU is set to implement travel bans and asset-freezes on Lukashenko next week, and is reportedly considering further sanctions.
Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports]. While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses. In 2008, the Belarus KGB detained at least 16 journalists [JURIST report] and searched their homes and offices for materials that allegedly libel Lukashenko. Also in 2008, Belarusian district courts sentenced at least 55 demonstrators [JURIST report], including journalists, for participating in a banned "Freedom Day" rally in Minsk to protest the presidency of Lukashenko. An opposition activist who was critical of Lukashenko during his 2006 presidential campaign was sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in jail in 2008 by a Belarusian court after being arrested for making comments that Lukashenko was connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky.