Belarus oppositionists cry foul after 'embassies' suspended on Twitter

  • World
  • Friday, 02 Jul 2021

FILE PHOTO: Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya holds a picture of her husband Syarhei Tsikhanouski during a "Belarus support day" protest in Vilnius, Lithuania May 29, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans/File Photo

BERLIN (Reuters) - Twitter has suspended the accounts of a group of exile opposition groups that call themselves the "Belarusian People's Embassies" after they were accused of identity theft by Belarusian authorities.

The people's embassy movement sprang up after last year's presidential election, in which long-serving strongman Alexander Lukashenko claimed a resounding victory despite a widespread belief that the vote was fraudulent.

The resulting crackdown has seen hundreds thrown in prison, allegations that opposition activists were tortured, and spurred a lively exile movement in countries like Latvia, Lithuania and Germany where many Belarusians live.

The various groups, which assert that Svetlana Tikhanouskaya, now living in Lithuanian exile, won the election, and acknowledge her as Belarus's legitimate President, argue that their social media accounts are in effect 'embassies' of the Belarusian people, not Lukashenko's state.

"Even though the regime is illegitimate, we never claim to be an official embassy," the People's Embassy group in Germany said in a statement. "We represent the people, not the regime."

The group sent journalists and activists a screenshot of an e-mail from Twitter in which the platform said it had been "made aware that this account violates Twitter rules, in particular against identity theft."

There was no proof that Belarusian authorities reported the three accounts, @BelarusinS, @BelarusInUK and @BelarusInDE, representing groups in Spain, Britain and Germany, all of which were listed as suspended on the Twitter platform on Friday afternoon, in a note that said Twitter suspends accounts that violate its rules.

But Belarus has stepped up its activities against exiled activists, most recently taking the almost unprecedented step of forcing a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in order to arrest Roman Protasevich, an influential opposition journalist who was on board.

"Lukashenko's regime tries to silence everybody who dares to say the truth or to fight him" the opposition group said in a statement.

Twitter did not immediately provide comment on the affair.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt, Editing by William Maclean)

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