Lawyers have filed a criminal complaint in Germany on behalf of 10 Belarusians alleging that authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has committed crimes against humanity.
Acting on behalf of "torture victims," the lawyers said on May 5 that they have submitted a complaint to federal prosecutors in the German city of Karlsruhe against Lukashenka "and other Belarusian security officers."
The lawyers stressed that neither Lukashenka nor his security officers face legal consequences in Belarus for their excessive use of force and the torture of citizens detained in the country. Thus, they said, they are calling on Germany to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged crimes.
The lawyers referred to so-called universal jurisdiction, which provides for the possibility of criminal prosecution for crimes that break international law even when they are committed in other states.
"In general, the actions of the authorities can only be called brutal," the lawyers said in a statement.
Minsk did not immediately comment.
The 66-year-old Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, was officially declared the victor of the August 9, 2020, presidential election by a landslide, triggering almost daily protests demanding that the longtime strongman step down and new elections be held.
The opposition says the vote was rigged, and the West has refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus.
Security officials have cracked down hard on the demonstrators, arresting thousands, including dozens of journalists who covered the rallies, and pushing most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our coverage as Belarusians continue to demand the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka amid a brutal crackdown on protesters. The West refuses to recognize him as the country's legitimate leader after an August 9 election considered fraudulent.
Several protesters have been killed in the violence and some rights organizations say there is credible evidence of torture being used by security officials against some of those detained.
"This is the first step towards the inevitable recognition of the regime as a terrorist organization with all the ensuing consequences," the German media outlet Deutsche Welle quoted a representative of the Belarusian diaspora in Germany as saying.
Belarusian opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who lives in self-imposed exile in Lithuania, welcomed the legal filing, saying in a statement, "There will never be impunity in Belarus, and today's news is a clear example of this."
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would "not forget" the prisoners languishing behind bars in Belarus.
Those in "acute danger" would be welcomed in Germany if it could be arranged, Merkel said.