Man killed by Belarus security forces worked for U.S.-based EPAM -firm

  • World
  • Thursday, 30 Sep 2021

FILE PHOTO: Participants hold portraits of Andrei Zeltser, an IT worker with U.S. company EPAM Systems, during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KYIV (Reuters) - A man shot dead by Belarusian security forces in a raid on an apartment block was an employee of EPAM Systems, a U.S.- based software firm, the company said on Thursday.

Belarusian authorities reported that KGB officers shot dead a 31-year-old man and arrested his wife on Tuesday after he resisted law enforcement officers. They did not confirm his identity or media reports that the man may have been a U.S. citizen.

The IT industry was a driving force behind protests after a disputed election last year. EPAM's Belarusian founder was a signatory to an open letter calling for the release of prisoners following a crackdown on protesters and for new elections.

"While the individual in question has not been named by any official source, we can confirm that the individual reported in the media was an EPAM employee," EPAM said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday.

"The company has no information that the individual ever held any other citizenship or residential status outside of Belarus."

The crackdown on protesters after the August 2020 presidential election included searches of apartment blocks where protesters were believed by security forces loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko to be hiding.

Protesters said the election was rigged so that Lukashenko could win. In power since 1994, Lukashenko has denied electoral fraud and defied Western sanctions and opposition calls to step down. He has described the protesters as criminals bent on violent uprising.

Local media and a senior adviser to exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya had earlier identified the man killed as Andrei Zeltser, an IT worker with EPAM.

The U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus, Julie Fisher, said on Wednesday the United States was seeking additional information on whether the victim in the shooting was a U.S. citizen.

The incident was condemned by the opposition, and Belarusians held a protest rally in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Wednesday evening. The head of a Belarusian exile group was found hanged in a park in Kyiv in August.

"It's very scary. We are not safe anywhere, not in our homeland, not here," said one of the protesters in Kyiv, who declined to give his name.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams, editing by Timothy Heritage)

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