The European Union has again condemned Belarus's violent crackdown on protesters since a disputed August election and has threatened to impose more sanctions on the country following the death of a 31-year-old Belarusian citizen who was reportedly badly beaten by masked security forces.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the capital, Minsk, on November 13 to mourn the death of Raman Bandarenka and lay flowers at the site where he was arrested before his death.
Witnesses say plainclothes men abducted Bandarenka on November 11 after a scuffle in a square where they came to remove red-and-white ribbons that represent the opposition protest movement against strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
The Interior Ministry said “unknown people” were fighting and when police arrived they called an ambulance to take the injured Bandarenka to the hospital.
One witness said there was no ambulance, and instead, the masked men took several people away in minivans similar to those used by security forces.
More than an hour later, Bandarenka was reportedly taken to a hospital with severe head trauma and died. .
"This is an outrageous and shameful result of the actions by the Belarusian authorities who have not only directly and violently carried out repression of their own population, but also created an environment whereby such lawless, violent acts can take place, thus ignoring not only the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Belarusian people but also disregarding their lives," EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement released on November 13.
"The European Union has already imposed sanctions on 55 individuals responsible for violent repression and intimidation, and stands ready to impose additional sanctions," Stano added, while expressing the EU's "deepest condolences" for the family and friends of Bandarenka.
Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, has faced almost daily protests calling for his resignation since a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged and which the West has refused to accept.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands of people arrested since authorities declared Lukashenka the landslide winner of the vote.
There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.
Most of the country's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country, including opposition leader Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who described Bandarenka as a hero.
“He became a victim of the regime's inhumanity and terror for just being an active Belarusian [striving] for freedom,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
In response to the crackdown, the United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.
The foreign minister of neighboring Lithuania, where Tsikhanouskaya is currently living after leaving Belarus because of fears for her safety and that of her family, said he was "shocked" at Bandarenka's death.
"Astonishing cynicism, cruelty of the regime and blunt ignorance of people's aspirations for changes," Linas Linkevicius said on Twitter.