Belarus protest leader says she was threatened with expulsion 'alive or in bits'

WION Web Team
Minsk, BelarusUpdated: Sep 10, 2020, 09:45 PM IST

Belarusian opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova gestures in front of law enforcement officers during a rally in Minsk, Belarus Photograph:(Reuters)

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Kolesnikova, one of the most prominent leaders of month-long protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, prevented the attempt to expel her by tearing up her passport.

Belarus opposition politician Maria Kolesnikova said security officers put a bag over her head and threatened to kill her when they tried to forcibly deport her to Ukraine earlier this week, according to a complaint filed by her lawyer on Thursday.

Kolesnikova, one of the most prominent leaders of month-long protests against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, prevented the attempt to expel her by tearing up her passport.

She has emerged as a hero for the protest movement trying to bring down the curtain on Lukashenko's 26-year rule, and a chief target for the authorities who have detained her over accusations of an illegal attempt to seize power in the former Soviet republic.

She said in her statement that she had genuinely feared for her life during the failed deportation attempt.

"In particular it was stated that if I did not voluntarily leave the Republic of Belarus, I would be taken out anyway, alive or in bits. There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years," Kolesnikova said.

She was told there would be problems for her while she was held under guard or in jail.

"The persons indicated (security officers) uttered threats to my life and health, which I took to be real," she said.

Her lawyer Lyudmila Kazak filed a criminal complaint against Belarusian authorities including the KGB security police, for kidnap, illegal detention and threats to commit murder.

The complaint was submitted to the state Investigative Committee. Asked for comment, a representative of the Committee, Sergei Kabakovich, said: "At the present moment I have no information about this."

Kolesnikova, who remains jailed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, is accused of undermining national security as part of a criminal probe against senior members of the opposition Coordination Council. She faces up to five years in prison, if convicted.

All of the council's senior members except for Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich have been jailed or forcibly expelled from the country. Unidentified people attempted Wednesday to enter Alexievich's apartment in Minsk. Diplomats from several European Union nations gathered there to prevent her detention.

Lukashenko denies rigging the August 9 election, which official results said he won by a landslide, and has cracked down hard on protesters demanding his resignation. He has refused to talk to the opposition, saying it is bent on wrecking the country.

Inaugurating a new chief prosecutor on Thursday, Lukashenko reiterated his uncompromising line.

"I want to tell you like a man... People often reproach me: 'He won't give up power.' They're right to reproach me. The people didn't elect me for this," he said.

"Power is not given to be taken, thrown and given away," he added, saying the country must not return to the chaos of the 1990s following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

In the month since the disputed election, nearly all the opposition's key leaders have been arrested, fled, or been forced to leave the country.

Writer Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, accused the authorities on Wednesday of terrorising their own people. Diplomats from seven European countries came to her flat, in part to help protect her.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, retains the support of his key ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin. The West has so far been cautious about taking firm action that might provoke a Russian intervention, although the EU is drawing up a list of Belarusian officials to target with sanctions.