Belarusian opposition leader alleges government of torturing detained journalist

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Belarus’s opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, on Monday, claimed that detained journalist Roman Protasevich had been “tortured” in custody.

She negated claims of a lawyer who visited the journalist and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega in jail and said that he seemed fine. Sviatlana, while speaking to reporters at a news conference, said: “It seems doubtful, because he, for sure, seems tortured and beaten.”

She also expressed outrage at the new travel restrictions, calling the move a “blatant violation of the law.” The outrage comes as Belarus’ border security agency Monday announced further tightening of already strict rules limiting citizens’ exiting the country — even if they have residency permits abroad.

The border security agency, however, announced that these changes were temporary and in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But in actuality, blocks to all land border crossings have been placed as citizens have started to flee the former Soviet bloc country in large numbers.

The number has surged since Alexander Lukashenko came out as the winner of a disputed presidential election. Mass protests over claims of election rigging met with a hefty crackdown.

When people saw the foreign lands safer than their own country, the government in Minsk made it difficult for citizens to flee the country last December. It was done by limiting departures to those citizens who could show long-term residency permits from abroad.

The holders of such documents are barred from leaving as well. Only those who prove that they have resident status (permanent) in a foreign country will be allowed to travel abroad.

This frenzy comes in the week since Ryanair’s flight from Athens to Vilnius was forcibly grounded in Minsk, in which journalist Roman Protasevich was traveling along with his girlfriend.

Three days after the incident, European airlines were stopped from flying over the Belarusian airspace.

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