Wednesday, 30 Sep 2020

High-profile Washington analyst faces up to three years' jail in Belarus

MINSK (AFP) – A high-profile analyst and strategist who has advised presidential candidates in the US and Russia has been charged with helping organise mass unrest in Belarus and faces up to three years in prison, his lawyer said on Saturday (Aug 8).

Vitali Shkliarov, who has worked on US Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign and advised the Russian opposition, was detained in Belarus in late July and arrested for two months.

The lawyer for Harvard University fellow Shkliarov said the analysts had been charged with organising actions violating public order ahead of Sunday’s (Aug 9) tense presidential election in Belarus.

Lawyer Anton Gashinsky said Mr Shkliarov’s arrest did not appear to be Belarusian authorities scare tactics on the eve of the vote, saying Minsk wanted the 44-political analyst to stand trial.

“This is a very serious case,” Mr Gashinsky told AFP.

He said Mr Shkliarov denied any guilt, saying he is being punished for commenting on Belarusian politics ahead of the election.

Mr Shkliarov was born in the Belarusian city of Gomel but is based in Washington and married to a US citizen.

In the run-up to the election, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko accused Russia of meddling and sending more than 30 mercenaries to foment unrest.

Mr Lukashenko claimed on Thursday (Aug 6) that apart from Russian mercenaries other people also wanted to stir unrest and were therefore detained.

“Some people” who were detained have “US passports, (and) are married to Americans who work for the State Department,” Mr Lukashenko said in an apparent reference to Mr Shkliarov.

Citing the country’s security service, Belarusian television said Mr Shkliarov had advised Sergei Tikhanovsky, one of Mr Lukashenko’s would-be rivals, who is now in jail.

Mr Tikhanovsky’s wife, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as Mr Lukashenko’s strongest election rival.

Mr Shkliarov denies working for them. He arrived in Belarus earlier this summer to see his elderly parents and brought his young son with him.

Mr Gashinsky said the analyst was shaken by the arrest, was “in low spirits” and did not sleep well.

He was also forced to shave off his beard, the lawyer added.

Writing in the Russian version of Forbes in July, days before his arrest, Mr Shkliarov said Mr Lukashenko’s election campaign was based on “populism and crude force”.

Apart from working for Mr Sanders, Mr Shkliarov volunteered for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and advised the Russian opposition including Dmitry Gudkov.

Meanwhile, the campaign manager

for Mrs Tikhanovskaya, Maria Moroz, have also been detained and was expected to be held until Monday (Aug 10).

It was not immediately clear on what grounds she had been detained, said spokeswoman Anna Krasulina.

“She probably won’t be released before Monday,” Ms Krasulina said.

Ms Moroz was also detained by the interior ministry on Thursday after visiting the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk. She was later released

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