Belarus: Kolesnikova and her lawyer jailed

In a trial that was closed to the public, the Belarusian civil rights activist Maria Kolesnikova has been sentenced to eleven years in prison and her defence lawyer Maxim Znak to ten years. The opposition, the EU and Amnesty International have sharply criticised the sentence and called for the release of all political prisoners in Belarus. Commentators are dismayed but voice hope that the Belarusian opposition will win out in the end.

Open/close all quotes
Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

She alone had the courage

Rzeczpospolita voices deep admiration:

“Kolesnikova is a musician by profession, a flautist. ... In 2007 she went to Germany where she completed her studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart. After ten years, however, she decided to return to her home town of Minsk, where she quickly became part of the cultural scene. ... Of the three women who became symbols of the struggle against the Lukashenka regime last summer, she was the only one who stayed in Belarus. ... One night she was taken to the Ukrainian border and put in a car together with two other Belarusian opposition members. ... Shortly before the Ukrainian border crossing, Kolesnikova tore up her passport and jumped out of the window. The men drove on and admitted later at a press conference in Kiev that they 'wouldn't have had the courage' to do what she did.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Despotism disguised as justice

Novaya Gazeta is angry that such trials can be passed off as legal proceedings:

“This was not a trial: the indictment was secret, the defence lawyers were not allowed to disclose anything. We must not be deceived by the power of words. Bandits steal our words just as they are stealing our lives, freedoms, rights, elections, money and future. The gang that has seized the state is calling itself the state and this act of violence a trial. They use noble words to mask ignoble deeds. If this trial had been public, it would have become clear to the whole world that this is a meeting of bandits, of fanatics meting out punishment to a person.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

The West has no answer

Der Tagesspiegel points to the West's helplessness:

“In the case of Kolesnikova, Lukashenka obviously wanted to demonstrate his absolute and unrestricted power even over an opponent who is known and respected in the West. ... The West may protest and demand her release, but it has no real means of opposing Lukashenka's tyranny. Even its sanctions hardly frighten him - at least as long as he knows that with Vladimir Putin he has a friend at his side.”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

Lukashenka's rule has no future

This spectacle is hard to watch but in fact it shows the weakness of the Belarusian president, writes the Salzburger Nachrichten:

“The good news is that Lukashenka's strength is more appearance than reality. His rule has no future. So a policy of clear, steadfast non-recognition and sanctions is the most promising. Maria Kolesnikova's moving courage will then be rewarded in the end - even if it is a long process.”