In the days after the disputed vote, Ms. Tikhanovskaya and Ms. Tsepkalo both went abroad in murky circumstances. Ms. Kolesnikova was kidnapped by masked men on Sept. 8 last year and taken to the country’s border with Ukraine, but she resisted attempts to forcibly deport her by ripping up her passport, jumping out of the car she was in, and walking back onto Belarusian territory.
“We demand the immediate release of Maria & Maksim, who aren’t guilty of anything,” Ms. Tikhanovskaya, who emerged as the opposition leader in exile and is now living in Lithuania, wrote on Twitter. “It’s terror against Belarusians who dare to stand up to the regime.”
Despite 11 months behind bars, Ms. Kolesnikova has sought to project an indomitable spirit, sending positive letters from prison to relatives and supporters. When she appeared in court on Monday morning, in a glass cage with Mr. Znak, she contorted her handcuffed hands to form the shape of a heart, one of her trademark messages during the campaign last summer.
In the days before her trial began last month, Ms. Kolesnikova wrote that the authorities offered to negotiate her release from custody if she sought a pardon or appeared repentant on state television. She said she rejected the offer because she was innocent.
No one besides the lawyers could be present when Ms. Kolesnikova and Mr. Znak made their closing remarks last week. But according to the aides of Mr. Babariko, whose campaign Ms. Kolesnikova had managed, she spoke at length about “moral choice, conscience, respect and love for people” and called for the rule of law to be implemented in her country.
“No matter how the word ‘democracy’ sounds on television, one cannot ignore what is written about our country in the Constitution,” she reportedly said.