Former Belarus presidential contender Viktor Babariko was sentenced to 14 years in prison in a move condemned by the U.S.
Babariko was sentenced by the high court in the country on corruption charges of bribery and money laundering, The Associated Press reported. His sentence also includes a $57,000 fine.
Babariko has condemned the charges and said they were politically motivated.
“I can’t plead guilty to the crimes I didn’t commit,” Babariko said in court. “I can tell you from that cage that I don’t feel ashamed for my life before the people I knew.”
Babariko was seen as the main challenger to President Alexander Lukashenko last year during the country's election, but was arrested and barred from candidacy.
“The cruel sham of the #Belarus court system is on display today with the @Viktar_Babaryka sentencing, showing the Lukashenka regime will stop at nothing to keep power. #StandWithBelarus,” U.S. Embassy Minsk tweeted after the ruling.
The cruel sham of the #Belarus court system is on display today with the @Viktar_Babaryka sentencing, showing the Lukashenka regime will stop at nothing to keep power. #StandWithBelarus https://t.co/1ovSwYnffM— U.S. Embassy Minsk (@USEmbBy) July 6, 2021
Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus in 1994. He claimed victory in a landslide in the most recent election.
His claims sparked massive protests across the country. However, the Belarusian government has cracked down on protesters, forcing one of the opposition leaders, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, to flee the country.
"It's an insane term for a man who decided to go into politics and became one of the leaders who woke the country from a long sleep," Tsikhanouskaya said, according to Reuters.
"The regime is doing everything to kill off any thought that even remotely resembles faith and hope. But for Viktor — as for thousands of innocent people in prison — what matters most is the hope in our hearts," she continued, according to the wire service.
The U.S. and European Union have put sanctions on the country due to the government's response to the protests, AP noted.