Belarusian authorities have officially requested that Lithuania extradite opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who has been living in the Baltic country since leaving amid safety fears following a disputed presidential election that sparked mass protests that have been put down violently by authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The Prosecutor-General's Office of Belarus said on March 5 that Tsikhanouskaya is wanted by Minsk for "crimes committed against public order, public safety, and the state."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis issued a statement soon after the request was made public, saying Vilnius will ignore it.
"Lithuania was, is, and will be a stone wall behind which all democratic forces persecuted by regimes can find asylum. Therefore, all those who obtained asylum in Lithuania can feel themselves safe -- they will not be handed to regimes for being persecuted for their fight for democracy, freedom of speech or religion. Our answer to the Belarusian regime is -- We will not look into your request," Lansdbergis said in the statement.
Tsikhanouskaya, who along with her supporters say she won the presidential poll, took part in the August 2020 election as a candidate after her husband was jailed while trying to mount a candidacy of his own.
She left the country along with her children for Lithuania due to security concerns shortly after the vote, which election officials said Lukashenka won by a landslide.
Thousands of Belarusians, including dozens of journalists covering the protests, have been detained by authorities, some handed prison terms, and hundreds beaten in detention and on the streets.
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 detainees.
The latest sentence against a protester was pronounced by a Minsk court on March 5. Alyaksandr Trotski, a 45-year-old businessman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. He denies the charge and many activists say the case was politically motivated.
The 66-year-old Lukashenka, who has run the country since 1994, has denied any wrongdoing with regard to the election and has refused to negotiate with the opposition over stepping down and holding new elections.
The European Union, United States, Canada, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have slapped him and senior Belarusian officials with sanctions in response to the “falsification” of the vote and postelection crackdown.