Viktor Babariko, a candidate in Belarus' 2020 presidential elections and the former head of Belgazprombank, addresses reporters during a press conference in Minsk, Belarus, 11 June 2020. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Potential Belarusian presidential challenger remanded in custody
By Elena Pavlovska
epa08478967 Viktor Babariko, a candidate in Belarus’ 2020 presidential elections and the former head of Belgazprombank, addresses reporters during a press conference in Minsk, Belarus, 11 June 2020. The presidential campaign has kicked off in Belarus, with the election scheduled for 09 August 2020. The presidential campaign has kicked off in Belarus, with the election scheduled for 09 August 2020. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH
Babariko’s election campaign said it collected nearly 435,000 signatures, much more than the minimum of 100,000 required for candidacy. The court upheld the pretrial detention of Babariko, who is charged with financial crimes, his lawyer said. A Belarusian court has remanded in custody Viktor Babariko, a potential opponent of president Alexander Lukashenko in the upcoming election. Lukashenko, who has led the country since 1994, earlier announced that he is running for his sixth term in the August 9 presidential election. Several opposition bloggers, including opposition leader Nikolai Statkevich, have been sentenced to 15 days in jail, following protests against Lukashenko’s seeking of another term. He was arrested last month together with his son Eduard and 15 executives as part of a tax evasion and money-laundering probe. The commission added that Lukashenko collected 1,939,572 signatures, nearly three times more than all other five candidates allowed to run against him combined. The rights watchdog, Amnesty International, said it believes that “Viktor and Eduard Babariko are prisoners of conscience, prosecuted solely for the peaceful expression of their political opinions”. Babariko stepped down as CEO to the Russian-owned Belgazprombank to run against Lukashenko. Babariko said the arrests are politically motivated. However, the Central Election Commission said that he received only 165,744 signatures, a day after election authorities rejected tens of thousands of signatures he and other opposition candidates had collected. Belarusian authorities took control of the bank.