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The Leader of Europe's 'Last Dictatorship' Is Facing an Unprecedented Challenge. Here's What It Could Mean for Belarus

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Europe’s longest serving leader Alexander Lukashenko has long worked hard to seem invincible. He has dominated past elections that the U.S. has deemed neither free nor fair and brokered no dissent and suppressed protests. Now, he is facing an unprecedented challenge as he runs for a sixth term as president of Belarus in elections on August 9. A former teacher and political novice, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has emerged as his main rival, pledging to topple Lukashenko’s regime and restore democracy.
Tens of thousands have rallied across Belarus in some of the country’s biggest opposition protests in a decade, amid mounting frustration over the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, combined with grievances about the economy. Referring to Lukashenko, protestors chanted ‘stop the cockroach’ and held placards reading ‘change!’.
“For the first time in his 26-year rule, Lukashenko knows the majority don’t support him,” says Aleksandr Feduta, a former aide to the incumbent, who was i…

Tehran sends message with death sentence

Iran has condemned 5 men to death for anti-government unrest, including at least 4 who were arrested months before the country's disputed presidential elections, human rights activists say.

Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said the 4 were purported members of a small group, the Iran Monarchy Committee, which advocates restoring the system overthrown by the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The fifth condemned man was said to have ties to the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a Marxist-Islamist militant group that has several thousand adherents in Iraq, he said.

Mr. Ghaemi said all 5 were lumped in with the postelection protesters and sentenced to death after show trials.

"The government is picking on the least popular anti-government groups and claiming they are the same as the election protesters," Mr. Ghaemi said. He said the government's intent is to show that the opposition is a marginalized minority segment and "put the counterrevolutionary label on them."

More than 4,000 Iranians were arrested during protests after the fraud-tainted re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on June 12. Most have been released, but about 200 remain behind bars and about 110 have been put on trial. An Iranian-American urban planner, Kian Tajbakhsh, was sentenced last week to 15 years in prison.

Mr. Ghaemi said the purported members of the monarchist group were arrested in April and that the indictment against them clearly states that they were apprehended "before they could engage in any action" against the government.

The 1st to be condemned was Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani.

A video of his televised trial Aug. 8 showed him describing a purported meeting with U.S. intelligence in Dohuk, a border city in northern Iraq. Against a backdrop of defendants fanning themselves in the stifling courtroom, Mr. Zamani stood at the defendant's dock gesturing with his right hand as he described his involvement in collecting intelligence and funneling it to the United States.

Dordaneh Fouladvand, a spokeswoman for the royalist group, confirmed that Mr. Zamani worked for its radio station but added "he had absolutely no links with the Americans and hadn't been involved in any operations inside Iran."

Amnesty International condemned Mr. Zamani's imprisonment as a "mockery of justice" and called on Iran to lift the death penalty against him.

Tehran's Evin Prison, where Mr. Zamani is being held, has no press spokesman, and the spokesman for Iran's judiciary does not give comments over the phone. A spokesman for Iran's mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations that Mr. Zamani and other condemned prisoners had been arrested before the June 12 election.

Mr. Ghaemi noted that the number of annual executions in Iran has increased 4fold, to nearly 350 last year, since 2005, when Mr. Ahmadinejad became president.

Mr. Ghaemi said the use of the death penalty in these political cases was meant to intimidate Iranians not to continue protests. He said the threatened executions might also be meant to mollify Mr. Ahmadinejad's hard-line base which, Mr. Ghaemi said, appears upset about negotiations with the United States over Iran's nuclear program.

Those condemned to death may still appeal their sentences to Iran's Supreme Court.

Source: Washington Times, Oct. 25, 2009

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