Friday, 28 January 2022

Belarusians increasingly cornered after EU cuts air links

Protasevich, a journalist critical of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were detained after the plane carrying them was forced to land in Belarus. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits, File)

MINSK – As fear of repression rises among Belarusians following the arrest of a dissident journalist whose plane was forcibly diverted to Minsk, those who want to leave the country are feeling increasingly cornered.

Its land borders already were under tight restrictions, and now the European Union has banned flights from Belarus after a jetliner was diverted to Minsk earlier this week and authorities arrested a dissident journalist who was aboard.

That leaves opposition-minded Belarusians with few options to get out from under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.

“Shutting the borders turns Belarus into a can of rotting preserves. We are being turned into hostages,” said Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska, who leads a rights group that helps those released from prison adapt to life and also organizes documentary film festivals.

“The authorities have scaled up repressions in recent months to incite the atmosphere of fear,” she told The Associated Press.

Hatsura-Yavorska said most of her friends and associates have faced detention, searches and brutal beatings, and many have fled Belarus.

She served 10 days in jail after organizing a photo exhibition about medical workers in the coronavirus pandemic that authorities decided leaned toward the opposition. She faces charges that could land her in prison for three years.

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