The Belarusian Supreme Court has sentenced Victor Babariko, who ran for president last year and was imprisoned on the campaign trail, to 14 years in jail.
The trial, on trumped-up corruption charges, represents the first political verdict in what will likely be a stream of long sentences for those who dared to run against Alexander Lukashenko.
The Belarusian leader retained the presidency in what was widely decried as a rigged vote last August and has detained some 35,000 Belarusians for participating in protests against his rule.
Hundreds were tortured at the hands of the security services and there are currently 534 political prisoners sitting in Belarusian jails.
Babariko was the head of Belgazprombank and a popular presidential candidate.
At the start of the hearing in February, long queues formed in the streets in solidarity with the jailed banker.
In his final words to the court, Babariko refused to admit any guilt. “I am not ashamed before my loved ones because no illegal actions – not even a hint of any illegal actions – took place,” he said.
“My children told me – we’re not ashamed of our dad.”
Babariko’s son Eduard was arrested with him last August, alongside other members of his campaign team. They are in prison awaiting trial.
“One day it will be difficult to explain to our grandchildren that this really happened”, the Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya wrote in response to the verdict.
“Victor Babariko has been in prison for over a year. And it depends on you and me whether this year turns into 14.”
Tikhanovskaya’s husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, is also on trial though that procedure is taking place in a Belarusian prison and is not open to the public.
Like Babariko, he ran for the presidency last year but was jailed ahead of the vote.
His wife ran in his place, alongside Babariko’s campaign manager Maria Kolesnikova and Veronika Tsepkalo, whose husband Valery was also a presidential candidate.
These three women largely stole the limelight during the election and the subsequent crackdown against them and the long-suffering people of Belarus.
Tikhanovskaya and Tsepkalo were forced into exile. Maria Kolesnikova was imprisoned after she ripped up her passport rather than follow suit.
She and her lawyer Maxim Znak could now face up to 12 years in jail for allegedly working to undermine the state and establishing an extremist group.
Babariko trial was heard by the Supreme Court which means there are no options to appeal. Babariko’s lawyer Dmitry Layevsky told reporters on Tuesday that he will keep fighting the conviction.
“Our client has been deprived of the right to file an appeal. Therefore, the sentence will be challenged in a court of supervision.
“We will also highlight the violation of Viktor Babariko’s rights at the UN Human Rights Committee,” Layevsky said.
With Lukashenko in power though, leniency or release for Belarusian political prisoners is a pipe-dream.
Sectoral sanctions imposed by the EU last month are the toughest measures yet against Lukashenko’s regime but the repressions continue.
It makes the fight of those who continue to challenge a dictator who long since lost the respect of his people all the more courageous.