Harsher Charges Revealed Against Jailed Belarusian Opposition Figures Kalesnikava, Znak

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service

MINSK -- Opposition sources say that the Belarusian authorities have added charges including conspiracy to seize state power and organizing extremism to the cases of jailed opposition figures Maryya Kalesnikava and Maksim Znak.

Both are among the detained ranking members of the Coordination Council, an opposition group set up after Belarus's disputed presidential election in August with the stated aim of facilitating a peaceful transfer of power.

News of the fresh prosecutions came after the first day of a Soviet-style "All-Belarusian People's Assembly" mounted by Alyaksandr Lukashenka to float possible reforms and development in a move that appears designed to buy him time amid unprecedented protests against his regime.

Lawyer Dzmitry Layeuski and the Telegram channel of jailed would-be presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka disclosed the emergence of the new charges against Kalesnikava and Znak, which could carry prison sentences of up to 12 years.

The opposition says the election was rigged and the West has refused to accept its results.

Western governments have also repeatedly called for the release of senior opposition leaders and thousands of protesters jailed during months of crackdown on the street demonstrations against Lukashenka.

Kalesnikava and Znak were arrested in September and Kalesnikava was charged with calling for actions aimed at damaging the country's national security via the media and the Internet after she urged people to protest the official election results.

Znak was previously charged with public calls for actions aimed at harming the country's security, sovereignty, territorial integrity, national security, and defense.

Both have rejected the charges as politically motivated.

Mass demonstrations engulfed the country after Lukashenka claimed victory and a sixth consecutive term.

Opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president after her husband was jailed while trying to mount a candidacy of his own, left the country for Lithuania shortly after the election due to security concerns.

Thousands of Belarusians, including dozens of journalists covering the protests, have been detained and hundreds beaten in detention and on the streets.

Several protesters have been killed in the violence, and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some detainees.

Lukashenka has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and refuses to negotiate with the opposition on stepping down and holding new elections.

The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the "falsification" of the vote and postelection crackdown.

The 66-year-old Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, opened the two-day "People's Assembly" on February 11 by saying that a foreign "blitzkrieg" on Belarus had failed.

The U.S. Embassy in Belarus issued a statement on February 11 saying that the assembly was "neither genuine nor inclusive of Belarusian views and therefore does not address the country's ongoing political crisis."