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


  • World
  • Thursday, 10 Sep 2020

FILE PHOTO: Politician and representative of the Coordination Council for members of the Belarusian opposition Maria Kolesnikova attends a news conference in Minsk, Belarus August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

MOSCOW (Reuters) - 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-old 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 news portal Tut.By said.

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."

NAMES AND RANKS

Kolesnikova's complaint included the names and ranks of individual officers of the KGB and the organised crime agency whom she accuses of threatening her, and said she would be able to identify them.

She is now being held in the capital Minsk, where Kazak said she was being questioned on Thursday. Kazak saw her client at a pretrial detention centre on Wednesday, and said she had bruises on her body.

Lukashenko denies rigging the Aug. 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.

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

He told prosecutors to act more decisively against opposition networks, many using Telegram instant messaging channels to organise demonstrations, which he acknowledged had spread widely through workplaces.

"There is an attempt to seize power," he said. "You must adopt a more powerful, sharper prosecutorial response to such actions."

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. The rights group Vesna (Spring) published a list of 58 people it described as political prisoners, with details of their arrests.

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 try to 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.

Anton Rodnenkov, an opposition member who was expelled to Ukraine this week, was quoted by RIA news agency as saying: "Lukashenko will resign... If this happens in October or November this year, we would be pleased."

(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Toby Chopra and Philippa Fletcher)

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