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'I Felt I Was Dying': Azerbaijani Activist Blames Police For Violent Beating
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Azerbaijani opposition activist and vocal government critic Tofiq Yaqublu says he was severely beaten in police custody after being detained at a protest rally on December 1. Appearing in a video after his release, he was badly bruised and said he was nearly suffocated by officers. The Azerbaijani government, which has been widely accused of human rights abuses, including torture and arbitrary detention, called his allegations "groundless."

Volha Zalatar has been recognized as a political prisoner by rights organizations in Belarus. (file photo)

MINSK -- A court in Minsk has sentenced Volha Zalatar, an activist and mother of five children, to four years in prison for running an online chatroom that challenged the official results of last year's presidential election, which handed victory to strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka despite opposition claims the balloting was rigged.

The Minsk City Court on December 3 found Zalatar guilty of running the dze.chat online community, which a court in Minsk had earlier deemed to be an "extremist" operation.

Anton Matolka, who says he is in fact the administrator of dze.chat, called Zalatar's case and her sentence politically motivated, saying that she had never run the chat group, but did organize events for it such as tea talks and concerts as a volunteer.

The 38-year-old Zalatar, who has been recognized as a political prisoner by rights organizations in Belarus, was arrested in March. Her children range in ages from four to 17 years.

Zalatar's sentence is one of many in recent months pronounced against activists as Belarusian authorities suppress dissent in any form since the disputed presidential election in August 2020.

Rights activists and opposition politicians say the poll was rigged to extend Lukashenka's 26-year rule. Thousands have been detained during countrywide protests and there have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by security forces. Several people have died during the crackdown.

Many of Belarus's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, while Lukashenka has refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The United States, the European Union, and several other countries have refused to acknowledge Lukashenka as the winner of the vote, and imposed several rounds of sanctions on him and his regime, citing election fraud and the police crackdown.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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