Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is the leader of democratic Belarus and a human rights activist, who challenged (and by many accounts, beat) the autocratic president Aliaksandr Lukashenka in the 2020 presidential election.
She stood in for her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, in the presidential election after he was jailed for his political aspirations. The election was fraught with widespread fraud and was followed by unjustified violence. Tsikhanouskaya has become the symbolic leader of Belarusian protests and has contributed greatly to promoting positive change in Belarus both through her domestic and international engagement. Following her forced relocation to Lithuania by Belarusian authorities, she met with global leaders to coordinate joint international efforts against the authoritarian regime to ensure the voices of Belarusians are heard.
In a sign of the threat that she still poses to the Lukashenka regime, and in the midst of a renewed and violent police crackdown on protesters demanding the resignation of the president, authorities in March 2021 announced a criminal probe into Tsikhanouskaya on charges of terrorism along with several other unidentified people alleged to have attempted to stage explosions and arson attacks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and other cities. Despite supporting peaceful protests, Tsikhanouskaya has previously been accused by the Belarus authorities of plotting violent riots.
The European Parliament recognized the fight of Belarusian people for democracy and freedom led by Tsikhanouskaya by awarding her, among other leaders, the prestigious annual Sakharov Prize. She has also received a series of international awards for her courageous struggle against the authoritarian regime of Lukashenka (GLOBSEC Freedom award; 2020 Prize of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience; Politiken Freedom Prize).