MINSK — Belarusian businessman Alyaksandr Vasilevich has left a courtroom a free man in a tax evasion case that many activists say was politically motivated because of his support for an opposition politician.
Judge Maryna Fyodarava on February 4 found Vasilevich guilty of the charge and sentenced him to three years in prison. However, she also ruled that he should be freed as he has already served 1.5 years in detention.
Further details of the trial and verdict are not known as the proceedings were held behind closed doors.
He was arrested in late July 2020 after he, along with several others, came to the building of the Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB) demanding the release of Viktar Babaryka, a would-be presidential candidate who had been arrested for alleged corruption.
Vasilevich was sentenced to 14 days in jail for taking part in an “unsanctioned public event” and then rearrested in August 2020 and later charged with tax evasion.
In September 2020, human rights groups in Belarus recognized Vasilevich as a political prisoner.
Vasilevich is one of many Belarusians who have faced trials linked to mass protests against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka following a controversial presidential election in August 2020, in which Lukashenka claimed reelection even though many Belarusians say the poll was rigged.
The protests were met with the sometimes violent detention of tens of thousands of people. Much of the opposition leadership has been jailed or forced into exile. Several protesters have been killed and there have also been credible reports of torture during the widening security crackdown.
Belarusian authorities have also shut down several nongovernmental organizations and media outlets.
The West, which has refused to recognize the official results of the presidential election and does not consider Lukashenka to be the country’s legitimate leader, has imposed several rounds of sanctions against his regime.