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Belarusian Ex-WNBA Player Leuchanka Rearrested, Fined After Jail Release Over Protest


Alena Leuchanka at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
Alena Leuchanka at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro

MINSK -- Former WNBA and Belarusian national basketball team star Alena Leuchanka has been fined following a brief rearrest after she served 15 days in jail for taking part in ongoing protests against authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

Her father, Stsyapan Leuchanka, told RFE/RL that his daughter was placed under 72-hour preliminary arrest on October 15 immediately after she left a detention center where her relatives and dozens of supporters gathered to greet her.

She was then tried via videolink while being kept at the Akrestsin Street detention center in Minsk as riot policemen waited in a minibus outside the facility.

She was fined 810 Belarusian rubles ($314) for participating in an unauthorized protest action on September 20, reportedly a different one from the one that prompted her just-completed jail sentence, before once again being released.

The evidence against her reportedly included an Instagram image of Leuchanka carrying a sign that read "People -- champion."

Leuchanka refused to testify in the proceedings and said she had not been allowed access to a lawyer after being presented with the new charge the day before.

Leuchanka complained of the conditions during her two-week stint in jail, saying it had exacerbated chronic ailments.

A Minsk court had sentenced Leuchanka to 15 days in jail on September 30 after finding her guilty of violating regulations on public gatherings.

Earlier that day, Leuchanka, a member of the Free Association of Athletes (SOS BY) movement, was detained at the Minsk airport as she attempted to leave the country for medical treatment.

Leuchanka is one of Belarus's best-known athletes, having played basketball for the national team as well as in Russia's Superleague and the WNBA in the United States.

Several prominent Belarusian athletes have been handed jail terms of 10 to 15 days for their open support of the ongoing protests, demanding Lukashenka's resignation.

In August, nearly 350 Belarusian athletes and other members of the sports community threw down the gauntlet to Lukashenka by signing an open letter calling for an August 9 presidential election to be annulled and for all "political prisoners" and those detained during mass demonstrations that followed to be released.

The demonstrators say the vote was rigged in Lukashenka's favor and are demanding that he step down and hold new elections.

Lukashenka, who has refused to resign, had himself secretly sworn in on September 23, sparking outrage at home and abroad.

Western governments have refused to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate leader of Belarus and have called on him to peacefully transfer power.

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