Belarus Authorities Allegedly Issued Death Threats Against Opposition Activist


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A prominent Belarusian opposition activist has accused authorities of threatening to kill her has they tried to forcibly deport her to Ukraine amid government efforts to end five weeks of mass protests against President Alexander Lukashenko following a disputed election.

Maria Kolesnikova said in a complaint filed by her lawyer Thursday that she resisted her expulsion as authorities tore up her passport, put a bag over her head and drove her to the border with Ukraine before she fought her removal from Belarus and was jailed.

"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," Kolesnikova said. "There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years."

Kolesnikova also said authorities threatened she would have problems while under detention. "The persons indicated uttered threats to my life and health, which I took to be real," she said.

Kolesnikova's lawyer, Lyudmila Kazak, submitted a criminal complaint to the state Investigative Committee against Belarusian authorities, including the KGB police, for kidnapping, illegal detention and threats to commit murder, according to the news portal Tut.By.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday the United States is deeply concerned about the Belarusian government's attempts to forcibly expel Kolesnikova.

Pompeo also said the U.S. and other countries are considering bringing sanctions in response to recent events in Belarus to seek "accountability for those involved in human rights abuses and repression in Belarus."

Kolesnikova, who has been in a Minsk jail since Monday, has been accused of undermining national security as part of a criminal investigation against leaders of the Coordination Council, which was formed last month to negotiate a transition of power after Lukashenko won a sixth term in office.

Lukashenko has said council members and other activists are under the control of Western nations and accused them of trying to create a parallel government.

European Council President Charles Michel called Wednesday for faster consideration of sanctions against officials in Belarus after the detention of multiple opposition leaders.

"Political persecution in Belarus including detentions on political grounds and forced exile must stop," Michel tweeted Wednesday. "Belarusian authorities must free political prisoners and let citizens exercise their right to freedom of speech and assembly."

Michel's comments came on the same day unidentified Belarusian authorities detained one of the two remaining free leaders of the opposition council.

Attorney Maxim Znak was taken out of the Coordination Council's office by unknown people wearing ski masks, according to his associate, Gleb German. German said Znak managed to text "masks" before his phone was seized.

Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, is now the only council executive to remain free in Belarus, even after unidentified people tried to enter her apartment Wednesday.

Several European Union diplomats and journalists arrived at her apartment in Minsk to prevent her detention. Alexievich told reporters she does not plan to leave Belarus.

"What is happening is terror against the people," Alexievich said. "We have to unite and not give up our intentions. There is a danger we will lose the country."

Thousands of people have taken part in five weeks of protests that were triggered by a brutal government crackdown shortly after the August 9 election of Lukashenko that resulted in the detention of nearly 7,000 people. Three people were killed, and hundreds of others were hurt when police aggressively dispersed peaceful protestors with rubber bullets, clubs and stun grenades.

Opposition parties, the United States and the European Union allege the election was rigged.

Lukashenko denies the voting was fraudulent and blamed the unrest on meddling by Western countries. Russian news agencies quoted him this week saying he has nothing to discuss with the opposition, and that he would be open to constitutional reforms and a potential new presidential election.

Lukashenko's leading election opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, has left the country.