Belarus opposition leader calls for international help to ensure her ‘safe’ return

Following the arrest of Alexei Navalny in Russia, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya says that she will need “international guarantees” before she can safely return to Belarus.

The leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has said that she will need the help of the international community in order to return to her home country.

During a meeting with European Union representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Tikhanovskaya said that while she would like to find a safe way of returning to Belarus, “there must be special guarantees for my return”.

“The situation with [Alexei] Navalny has proven that the return of opposition activists would require the help of the international community and, above all, that of the OSCE.”

Navalny, a leading figure in the Russian opposition movement and anti-corruption activist, was arrested shortly after landing at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on January 17.

Russian prosecutors say Navalny, who has been jailed until at least February, violated the terms of an earlier suspended sentence for embezzlement. He was returning from Berlin where he had been treated after almost being killed in a nerve agent attack, for which the Kremlin is widely believed to be responsible, although the Moscow authorities continue to dent involvement.

The opposition politician’s allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

While the Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko claims to have won a presidential election held last August – official results gave him more than 80 per cent of the vote – Mrs Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed YouTuber, has always been viewed by most objective observers as the real winner of the election.

Since the election, widespread demonstrations by opposition supporters calling for a new, free, and fair election in Belarus have been met with brutal repression and the arrest of more than 28,000 people.

OSCE role

A coordination council, set up by Tikhanovskaya shortly after the election in order to negotiate a peaceful handover of power, has been decimated by arrests and expulsions. Of its seven members, three are in jail, while four have been exiled. Tikhanovskaya was herself forced to flee Belarus, and has since based herself in Vilnius, the capital of neighbouring Lithuania.

The Prosecutor General of Belarus has opened a criminal case over the establishment of the Council, calling it a “threat to national security”.

At her meeting with the EU’s OSCE representatives, Tikhanovskaya suggested that the organisation could play a role in establishing a dialogue to resolve the crisis in Belarus.

According to the opposition leader, the first step would be holding a round-table conference that would include EU delegates, the Coordination Council, other Belarusian democratic organisations, as well as government officials.

For that to happen, she says, international organisations must first ensure the safe return of opposition leaders to the country.

International Day of Solidarity

On January 18, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) stripped Belarus of its status as a co-host of the World Ice Hockey Championships, set to be held in May and June.

The Belarusian capital Minsk had been due to share hosting responsibilities with Riga, in Latvia.

The IIHF has for months faced pressure to strip Belarus of its co-hosting rights because of the violent way in which Mr Lukashenko has cracked down on protesters who dispute the result of last August’s election.

Tikhanovskaya has meanwhile called for an International Day of Solidarity with Belarus on February 7, “to support those who protest daily in Belarus in the face of adversity and to thank them for their bravery and strong will.”

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