The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion These are the victims of repression in Belarus

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks to the media after her meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya on April 7.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya speaks to the media after her meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya on April 7. (Toms Kalnins/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

BEFORE SHE became the exiled leader of the opposition in Belarus, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was a presidential candidate, standing in for her husband, a YouTuber arrested in May last year for his political activism against President Alexander Lukashenko. Before that, Ms. Tikhanovskaya, a mother of two, was an English teacher and interpreter.

Now the government of Belarus claims she is wanted for terrorism, another desperate attempt to silence her and all those fighting Mr. Lukashenko’s theft of the presidential election last August. Belarus’ Prosecutor General Andrei Shved said a criminal investigation has been opened into Ms. Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the disputed election. This absurdity is the latest chapter in Mr. Lukashenko’s drive to grind down all the activists, journalists, lawyers and demonstrators who refuse to accept the rigged 2020 vote.

Olympic swimming medalist Aliaksandra Herasimenia is facing criminal proceedings for her involvement as a leader of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, backing the protests. Igor Bancer, a punk rocker and founder of the band Mister X, decided to protest the stolen election in September by exposing himself in front of a police van in Grodno, a performance he called “showing my ass to the police.” On March 19, he was sentenced to 18 months hard labor in a penal colony.

Then there is the outrageous prosecution of Katsiaryna Barysevich, a journalist, and Artsiom Sorokin, a doctor. In November, Raman Bandarenka, an activist, was beaten to death in Minsk, allegedly by plainclothes police officers. The authorities claimed the police found him drunk and already beaten. But medical documents leaked to Ms. Barysevich, working for TUT.BY, a major independent news outlet, proved Bandarenka had not been intoxicated, and videos shot the day of Bandarenka’s killing showed men chasing and beating Bandarenka and bundling him into a van. On Nov. 29, Ms. Barysevich and Dr. Sorokin were indicted on a charge of “breaching medical confidentiality that led to grave consequences.” Bandarenka’s sister said that during the trial, which was closed, relatives testified that they had given Ms. Barysevich permission to publish the medical data. On March 2, the court sentenced Ms. Barysevich to six months in prison and a fine, and handed Dr. Sorokin a two-year suspended sentence and a fine.

These are just a few of the nearly 300 political prisoners in Belarus today as Mr. Lukashenko clings to power. The United States has sanctioned some 109 officials implicated in the repression, and has warned that unless prisoners are released, the United States will no longer allow transactions with nine Belarus petrochemical and other companies. Mr. Lukashenko is hoping that President Vladimir Putin of Russia will bail him out of his troubles; Russian oligarchs are eagerly eyeing Belarus potash assets. Congress last year passed a law providing that Russians can be sanctioned if complicit in Mr. Lukashenko’s crackdown on the press or in human rights abuses. The Biden administration ought to consider using this authority if Mr. Lukashenko refuses to budge. The tyrant must make way for the legitimate president, the English teacher.

Read more:

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya: The people of Belarus are still marching against dictatorship. The U.S. can help.

Alice Sitnikova: We are the future of Belarus — and that future doesn’t include Alexander Lukashenko

The Post’s View: Belarus’s movement will hopefully prevail. A U.S. president more sympathetic to democracy could help.

Jackson Diehl: Why people power doesn’t work like it used to

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