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Belarus Opposition Figure Says She Was Threatened With Death On Expulsion Attempt


Belarusian opposition politician Maryya Kalesnikava attends a rally to protest against the disputed August 9 presidential election results in Minsk on September 6.
Belarusian opposition politician Maryya Kalesnikava attends a rally to protest against the disputed August 9 presidential election results in Minsk on September 6.

Belarusian opposition leader Maryya Kalesnikava has said in a court filing that security officers placed a bag over her head and said they would kill her as they tried to force her out of the country.

Kalesnikava's lawyer, Lyudmila Kazak, said on September 10 that the opposition figure filed a complaint over the incident and was seeking legal action against the authorities, including the Belarusian KGB, over her treatment.

The 38-year-old has become a prominent leader of protests demanding the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka following the August 9 presidential election that the opposition says was rigged. Lukashenka denies rigging the vote.

She was snatched from the streets of Minsk on September 7 by masked men along with two staffers. The three were driven early on September 8 to the border, where they were told to cross into Ukraine.

Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she ripped her passport into small pieces after they arrived in a no-man's land between Belarus and Ukraine. The other two people with her -- the opposition Coordinating Council's press secretary, Anton Randyonkau, and executive secretary, Ivan Kravtsov -- continued on and are now believed to be in Ukraine.

A Month Of Turmoil In Belarus -- What's Next?
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The Minsk-based Vyasna (Spring) human rights center on September 10 published a joint statement by 12 human rights watchdogs based in Belarus recognizing that Kalesnikava and two of her associates also being detained are political prisoners and demanding their immediate release from custody.

"We are confident that criminal prosecution of M. Kalesnikava, M. Znak, and I. Saley is of a politically motivated character and has been organized with the aim of stopping their legal activities or to change their goals," the statement says.

"We are stating that we recognize Maryya Kalesnikava, Maksim Znak, and Illya Saley as political prisoners and demand [their] immediate release and closure of the criminal investigations launched against them."

The Belarusian Investigative Committee has said Kalesnikava, Saley, and Znak were all arrested on suspicion of calling for a seizure of power.

Lukashenka, who has led the country for 26 years and claimed victory in the disputed presidential election, has refused to meet with the opposition or agree to a new election.

A month of regular protests has ensued since the vote, including demonstrations from some of the workers and other prominent groups the strongman president has kept in tight lockstep in the past.

Lukashenka has directed a brutal postelection clampdown that has included thousands of arrests, beatings and other mistreatment of peaceful protesters, and expulsions of foreign journalists.

Inaugurating a new prosecutor-general on September 10, Lukashenka repeated his uncompromising line.

"There is an attempt to seize power," the 66-year-old Belarusian leader said, urging prosecutors to "adopt a more powerful, sharper prosecutorial response to such actions," according to the official BelTa news agency.

Kazak met with Kalesnikava on September 9 for the first time since her disappearance, saying she was put in a cell with six other people at a pretrial detention center.

Kazak on September 10 reiterated a previous statement saying that she and her client will request a forensic medical examination, as Kalesnikava has bruises on her body and plans to sue the officers who tried to forcibly deport her.

'Brave Women Of Belarus'

Meanwhile, in the European Parliament, Kalesnikava and fellow opposition figures Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Veranika Tsapkala have been nominated for this year’s Sakharov Prize.

The trio was nominated by the second-largest group in the chamber, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D).

In a press release announcing the decision, Kati Piri, S&D vice president, said that "we are firmly convinced that this year’s Sakharov Prize should honor the brave women of Belarus fighting for freedom and democracy in their country. We are particularly inspired by the three women who spearheaded the grassroots opposition campaign for last month's presidential elections in an attempt to unseat autocratic dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka."

The Three Women Challenging Lukashenka In Belarus
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Other groups in the European Parliament are expected to announce their own nominations later this week or early next week. However, sources in Brussels have told RFE/RL that all of the main political groups are leaning toward backing the S&D proposal.

The deadline for nominations is September 17, with three candidates due to be shortlisted on October 12 before the final decision on the 2020 laureate is announced on October 22.

The annual human rights prize is named after the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov and was established in 1988 by the European Parliament to honor individuals and organizations defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists and the former Belarusian presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkievich were awarded the prize in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

With reporting by and Rikard Jozwiak
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