“Lukashenko’s vengeance,” headlines Gazeta Wyborcza after a Belarusian court sentenced Andrei Sannikau, Lukashenko’s rival in the 2010 presidential elections, to five years in a penal colony for organising a street demonstration, attended by 20,000 people, on the day of the ballot (19 December). “This is the first but not the last of the dictator’s rivals who has gone to jail because they dared challenge him”, writes the Warsaw daily, noting three more of the incumbent’s counter-candidates are awaiting sentences. Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian journalist who spent time in jail several years ago and last year was deprived of Belarusian citizenship, says that President Lukashenko wants to achieve two things: exacting vengeance against his political opponents and, by imprisoning them or refusing passports, creating a group of “hostages”. These can serve as bargaining chips in talks with the West on lifting sanctions against Belarus or de-freezing aid for the country.
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