Maria Kolesnikova infuriated Alexander Lukashenko in September 2020 by ripping up her passport on the Belarus-Ukrainian border and refusing to be forcibly deported
She was the driving force of a female triumvirate that unnerved Alexander Lukashenko in elections last year – cutting through decades of dictatorship with a trademark heart hand sign that she’d draw to supporters at rallies.
Mardi, Mr Lukashenko returned Maria Kolesnikova a sign of his own by ordering harsh 12-year jail terms for her and her colleague Maxim Znak. There seems little prospect of the court doing anything other than obliging the requests.
The trial, which is being held behind closed doors in Minsk, is going ahead with unprecedented haste. A sentence is expected barely four weeks after the process began. No one can say anything about the charges or the evidence; they are both classified.
L'indépendant understands Ms Kolesnikova and Mr Znak gave final speeches to court on Tuesday. But there is no public record about what they said – that, trop, is classified.
Ms Kolesnikova was the only one in the female trio to remain in Belarus following the enforced exit of opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in August 2020.
The regime tried to send the former musician the same way, arresting her in a September raid and then attempting to forcibly deport her. But Ms Kolesnikova confounded her masked assailants by tearing up her passport on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border.
That move afforded Ms Kolesnkikova heroic status among the Belarusian opposition – and concentrated minds in the regime against her.
It also caused those closest to her to worry about what might be coming her way. Parler à L'indépendant, son père, Alexander Kolesnikov, recalls strong conflicting emotions of “rapture” and “anxiety” following news of her unsuccessful exfiltration.
The two had discussed various scenarios before, il a dit. He knew his daughter was independently minded – she’d always “done her own thing” – and he knew she was determined to stay in Belarus. But nobody, least of all him, expected such a radical move.
“Maria has always been governed by a sense of responsibility to people around her," il a dit. “I understood it wasn’t a spontaneous decision, but it still came as a shock.”
Although Mr Kolesnikov has not been allowed to watch the trial, authorities last week granted him the briefest of exchanges with his daughter. The meeting was the first time the two had seen each other for nearly a year. Separated by several metres and a glass cage, Maria greeted him with her trademark heart sign – he responded in kind.
The meeting helped cushion the blow of Tuesday’s unexpectedly harsh sentence request, Mr Kolesnikov said.
“I could see how strong she was in mind and body and soul,” il a dit. “She might have been in a cage that day, but she was freer than anyone in the room.”
Le lundi, the human rights monitor, Viasna, reported that there are 653 political prisoners in Mr Lukashenko’s jails.
Sentencing for Ms Kolesnikova and Mr Znak, which may or may not be public, is expected at noon next Monday.