Alexei Kudin— a former world champion kickboxer and MMA fighter best known for competing in the M-1 Global heavyweight division—has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for his participation in pro-democracy demonstrations in Belarus last year.
Kudin was detained in Moscow after fleeing political persecution in Belarus several months ago. He was later extradited back to his homeland, where he stood trial for his role in a pro-democracy demonstration in Minsk.
The heavyweight fighter took part in the pro-democracy protests against dictator Alexander Lukashenko following the August 9, 2020 presidential election. During the anti-government demonstration, Kudin reportedly assaulted a security officer and knocked him unconscious after security forces attacked the peaceful protestors. By August 12, reports began to emerge that Kudin had been detained by law enforcement when he went to treat his injuries at a nearby hospital.
While in detention, Kudin was reportedly “beaten and shot with rubber bullets.” He was eventually released on house arrest two weeks later pending further investigation into his role in the mass protests. Kudin skipped his November 2020 trial and fled to Russia, where he was eventually detained and returned to Belarus in July 2021.
In a video from a pre-detention center, which was later broadcast on state television, Kudin asked Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko to pardon him, adding that he was ready to be punished for his alleged crimes and that he “wants to act under the state flag of the Republic of Belarus and be useful to the country.
Kudin’s case is part of an unprecedented crackdown on Belarusian citizens who took part in protests demanding Lukashenko’s resignation. In June 2021, the dictator signed into law prison sentences for people taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations or insulting state officials. If found guilty of discrediting the state, Belarusians could face a four-year sentence.
It is worth noting that athletes in Belarus have faced bans, jail sentences, and a host of other consequences for protesting against the current regime. Most recently, Olympic sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya handed herself over to Japanese police after being forcibly taken to the airport by the Belarusian Olympic committee for criticizing her coaches. She has since been given a Polish humanitarian visa.