A Russian court has ruled world champion kickboxer Alyaksey Kudzin can be extradited to his homeland, Belarus, despite concerns the athlete may be politically persecuted and tortured.
The decision by a Moscow appeals court on July 21 came despite an earlier European Court of Human Rights opinion that banned his extradition.
Kudzin, a mixed-martial-arts fighter nicknamed "The Brick," is wanted in Belarus on charges of assaulting a security officer during pro-democracy protests against strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka after a disputed election in August 2020. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
The athlete, who has made sharp statements about Belarusian security forces and the government on social media, may face "torture, repression, and even death" if extradited to Belarus, the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund has said.
In January, Kudzin was detained in Moscow after fleeing to Russia in the autumn.
Kudzin was at an anti-government rally in the central town of Maladzyechna a day after the disputed August 9 presidential election when security forces attacked protesters with tear gas and batons.
During the melee, the heavyweight kickboxer allegedly knocked out a security officer.
The fighter was later arrested near a hospital, where he went for treatment of his injuries.
While in detention, he was allegedly beaten and shot with rubber bullets again before being released on house arrest two weeks later.
He then fled to Russia, skipping his trial in November, and was declared wanted.
Several protesters have been killed and thousands arrested during mass demonstrations demanding Lukashenka's resignation following the August election. There have also been credible reports of torture during a widening security crackdown.