The Belarusian judiciary issued a 12-year prison sentence in absentia against Alexandra Herasemenya, a former Olympic swimmer and activist opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko, on charges of “forming an extremist organization,” a human rights organization announced.
The “Viasna” organization said that a court in Minsk issued this judgment in absentia against Herasemenia, 36, at the end of a trial that began on December 19.
Hirasemenya, who won a silver and a bronze medal at the Olympic Games (2012 and 2016), retired from sports in 2019, and has since been living in exile, where she founded a human rights organization opposing President Lukashenko.
Viasna added, in a statement on its website, that the court also convicted the former swimmer of “calling for sanctions against Belarus” and “publishing false information about the events” that shook the country in 2020.
In 2020, Belarus witnessed unprecedented protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.
In the midst of these protests, Herasemenya, along with other athletes from her country, signed an open letter calling for “free elections.” She also founded the “Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation,” an organization that provides financial and legal assistance to Belarusian athletes persecuted by the authorities.
However, the Belarusian authorities quickly declared this organization an “extremist organization”.
In April 2021, Herasemenya put the gold medal she won in the 2012 World Swimming Championships up for auction. On that day, the medal was sold for 13,500 euros, and this amount was allocated to support the opposition athletes.
On the other hand, the “Viasna” organization announced in a separate statement that a trade union official named Alexander Yaroshuk was sentenced on Monday to 4 years in prison for “severely disturbing public order” in 2020.
For more than two years, the Belarusian authorities have waged a relentless campaign of repression that has left the overwhelming majority of opposition figures in the country either in prison or in exile.