'No time to cry', Belarus opposition leader says of husband's sentence

Brussels (AFP) – Belarus's exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya on Tuesday told AFP she will not "cry" over a lengthy prison term the regime in Minsk handed to her husband Sergei Tikhanovsky.


Instead, she vowed to AFP in an interview, she will redouble her efforts to galvanise the EU to put more pressure on Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko in the name of democracy.

"I'm not going to, you know, to be panicked because of this because I understand that we don't have time to cry, we don't have time to think about it too much," she said.

It was Tikhanovskaya's first media reaction after a Belarus court earlier Tuesday sentenced Sergei Tikhanovsky to 18 years behind bars.

Five other co-defendants were alongside him in the closed courtroom for the verdict in their months-long trial.

State media reported that Tikhanovsky, a 43-year-old YouTube blogger, was found guilty of organising riots, inciting social hatred and other charges.

Opposition activists were tried behind closed doors because the regime fears them, Tikhanovskaya told AFP
Opposition activists were tried behind closed doors because the regime fears them, Tikhanovskaya told AFP Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD AFP

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spoke in Brussels, where she was pressing EU officials to extend sanctions on Lukashenko ahead of an EU summit on Thursday.

The fact Tikhanovsky was given the maximum term possible, she said, proved that "my husband -- a brave, wonderful person -- became a personal enemy for Lukashenko".

The strongman, whose claim to re-election victory in polls last year triggered demonstrations brutally quashed by his security forces, fears the influence her husband had over the opposition, she said.

"In a sign that the regime is afraid of even those people... behind bars, even in jail... their process (trial) was closed. Because even the sight of those wonderful people can be an inspiration."

'Stay united'

She pledged to fight even harder to stand up for democratic change in her country, and to prod the European Union into more action.

"My message to the European Union is stay united," she said.

While Tikhanovskaya explained that she understood that EU member states' interests might diverge on Belarus, she urged them to "be more decisive and principled".

"Think about values," she said, "because I'm sure democratic countries can't allow one dictator to, you know, influence the minds of leaders or democratic countries, it's unacceptable.

"One dictator can blackmail... the whole of Europe."

Tikhanovskaya told AFP that she had no way of communicating with her husband besides short messages transmitted through his lawyer.

She said she was certain her husband would not serve the full 18-year sentence given to him -- which she described as "just numbers on the paper" -- and that "millions of letters" would be written to protest his incarceration.

"People behind the bars believed in us and we again, we can't betray them. We have to work, work harder, work tougher, you know, to release our beloveds."