This handout photo from the Viasna Human Rights Center shows...

This handout photo from the Viasna Human Rights Center shows Belarusian Uladzislau Beladzed, 33, teacher of the catechism at the Minsk city's Cathedral of the Holy Name of the Saint Virgin Mary. A Catholic activist in Belarus was convicted on charges of insulting the president and inciting social discord and was handed a three-year prison sentence on Friday. Credit: AP

TALLINN, Estonia — A Catholic activist in Belarus was handed a three-year prison sentence Friday on charges that Western diplomats have denounced as politically driven, the latest move in the authorities' sweeping crackdown on the country's civil society.

Uladzislau Beladzed, 33, who taught the catechism at the city’s Cathedral of the Holy Name of the Saint Virgin Mary, was convicted on charges of insulting the president and inciting social discord.

Beladzed actively participated in protests sparked by a 2020 vote that handed another term to Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and was denounced by the opposition and the West as rigged. Belarusian authorities responded to the massive demonstrations with a sweeping crackdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police.

Beladzed was detained by police at rallies on several occasions. He went on to support the country’s movement for free elections, and, after the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, he publicly prayed for peace.

During the protests, some Catholic and Protestant churches provided shelter and support to demonstrators. Catholic and Protestant clergy who supported the protests and sheltered demonstrators at their churches became targets of repression, but even some Orthodox priests condemned the crackdown.

About 80% of Belarus’ population of 9.5 million are Orthodox Christians. Around 14% are Catholics, living mainly in the country’s western, northern, and central regions, while a further 2% belong to Protestant churches.

Beladzed has been in custody since his arrest in May 2023, and the Viasna human rights center said he had serious health issues and reported that his relatives saw signs that he had been beaten when they attended the trial. Beladzed also was forced to film a video from his prison cell in which he said he was gay, “under obvious coercion,” Viasna said.

Beladzed's case, which has dealt another crippling blow to Belarus’ beleaguered civil society, has provoked sharp criticism from Western diplomats, who condemned the charges against him as unfair and politically motivated.

There are more than 1,400 political prisoners in the country, according to Viasna, including the group’s founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski.

Latest videos

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.