Belarusian Opposition Leader Denounces Lukashenko Meeting With Putin

Belarusian opposition leader and human rights advocate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has expressed regret that President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as a leading human rights organization accused Belarusian security forces of unlawfully arresting thousands of people and torturing hundreds of others. The two authoritarian leaders met Monday at a Black Sea resort in Sochi, when Putin granted the Belarusian government a $1.5 billion loan during a period of unrest in Belarus. The meeting was their first since mass protests erupted in Belarus after Lukashenko was reelected to a sixth term in an election widely viewed as rigged.   FILE – Opposition supporters take part in a rally against police brutality following protests to reject the presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sept. 13, 2020.Tsikhanouskaya, Lukashenko’s election opponent who has left Belarus, said she and other opposition leaders do not consider Lukashenko the legitimate president and that his meeting with Putin is further evidence of the need for change “after new fair elections when the new president will be in power.” Putin recognizes Lukashenko as the legitimate leader of Belarus, despite the ongoing mass protests. Detentions, tortureEarlier this week, Human Rights Watch accused Belarusian security forces of detaining and torturing people in the days after Lukashenko’s reelection. HRW said its findings were based on interviews with 27 former detainees, most of whom were arrested between Aug. 8 and 12, 14 people with knowledge of the arrests, and an examination of 67 videos and written accounts from former detainees and their relatives. FILE – People detained during recent rallies of opposition supporters, who accuse Alexander Lukashenko of falsifying the polls in the presidential election, show their marks from beatings as they leave the Okrestina prison, in Minsk, Aug. 14, 2020.The detainees said they were subject to beatings, electric shocks and other forms of torture, resulting in injuries such as broken bones, electrical burns, mild traumatic brain injuries, kidney damage and cracked teeth. At least one detainee was allegedly raped. Mass arrests resumed in the first week of September. The Interior Ministry reported that 600 people were apprehended Sept. 6 alone. The Ministry said another 774 people were arrested in Minsk and other Belarusian cities for holding unsanctioned demonstrations Sunday. Belarusian authorities also have targeted foreign journalists and local reporters working for foreign and local independent media organizations. HRW said dozens of the journalists have had their media credentials revoked, or have been expelled or harassed.  A journalist in Hrodna said he was arrested despite showing authorities his media credentials. He suffered two broken wrists at the hands of an officer with a Russian special police unit. Exiled Belarus Opposition Leader Pleads for ‘Help Now’ Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged international pressure, including sanctions on Alexander Lukashenko and his government following a disputed election Response from Lukashenko 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. During his meeting with Lukashenko, Putin endorsed the possibility of Belarus amending its constitution to lay the groundwork for new elections. VOA’s Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.  

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