Belarusian authorities must immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of opposition leader Maryia Kalesnikava and release her without delay, Amnesty International said today. According to eyewitnesses, Maryia Kalesnikava was abducted by masked men in Minsk on Monday morning, contradicting the Belarusian authorities’ claim that she was detained at the border with Ukraine.
“The Belarusian authorities have resorted to abduction-style arrests to deal with their opponents. Witnesses describe seeing Maryia Kalesnikava being bundled into a van by masked men, making her the latest in a long line of government critics who have gone missing over the past 20 years,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“We call for Maryia Kalesnikava’s immediate release, and for an end to the campaign of intimidation and political persecution against opponents of the administration of Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Her abduction comes in the wake of hundreds of new arrests of activists last Sunday, intimidation of students in high schools and universities by masked police, and the forcible exile of protest leaders. We demand a return to the rule of law and full respect for human rights in Belarus.”
Maryia Kalesnikava, a member of the opposition Coordinating Council who had galvanized opposition to the incumbent Alyaksandr Lukashenka during the presidential election in August, was seen being bundled into a van marked “Communications” by plain-clothed men near the National Art Museum in the centre of the capital Minsk on Monday morning. The day before, at least 630 people were detained during a peaceful protest march which was attended by tens of thousands of people in Minsk.
In recent weeks, hundreds of people have been apprehended by plain-clothed law enforcement officials in a similar manner throughout Belarus. Initially, the Ministry of Internal Affairs stated that it had no information about the fate and whereabouts of Maryia Kalesnikava. On the morning of 8 September, the Belarusian Border Committee announced that Maryia Kalesnikava and two other members of the opposition Coordinating Council, Anton Radniankou and Ivan Krautsou, tried to cross the border of Belarus with Ukraine the previous night. It later transpired that Radniankou and Krautsou had crossed into Ukraine, apparently against their will, while Maryia Kalesnikava was taken into the Border Committee’s custody. She reportedly tore her passport at the border to prevent being removed from Belarus.