MINSK — Viktar Babaryka, a former Belarusian banker whose bid to challenge Alyaksandr Lukashenka in last year’s presidential election was halted by his arrest, has gone on trial.
Babaryka’s Telegram channel on February 17 showed him being brought to the courtroom at the Moscow district court in Minsk.
After he announced his intention to run for president, Babaryka, a former senior manager at the Russian-owned Belgazprombank, was arrested in June along with his son Eduard on charges of money laundering, bribery, and tax evasion.
Three days before their arrest, Belarusian authorities took control of the bank and detained more than a dozen top executives on charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
All of the accused reject the charges as politically motivated.
Dozens gathered on February 17 outside the court to support Babaryka. People waited in line to get inside the building. They were instructed not to have telephones and tablets with them.
The case is being heard by judges from the Belarusian Supreme Court, a move that has been criticized by Babaryka and his defense team, who said that would deny them any chance of appeal in case of a guilty verdict.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians take to the streets to demand the resignation of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and call for new elections after official results from the August 9 presidential poll gave Lukashenka a landslide victory.
Lukashenka was declared the victor of the August 9 election, triggering protests by tens of thousands of Belarusians who say the vote was rigged. Protests have continued since then to demand Lukashenka, in power since 1994, step down.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands and pushing most top opposition figures out of the country.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and several rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used against some of those detained.
Lukashenka denies voter fraud and has refused to negotiate with the opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who supporters say actually won the August election.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka, 66, 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.