Moscow — A prominent Belarusian opposition figure on Thursday accused the country’s security forces of threatening her life andin a statement released by her lawyer. Maria Kolesnikova, the only member of a trio of women opposition leaders who is still in Belarus, went missing on Monday.
Witnesses said masked men forced her into a minibus in central Minsk. After more than a day of silence, government investigators announced that she had been detained — allegedly trying to flee into neighboring Ukraine — along with another opposition politician. They have been accused of harming national security and destabilizing the country.
Kolesnikova, currently in government custody in Minsk, said officers from a state security service put a bag over her head and threatened to kill her as they tried to drive her into to Ukraine by force, her lawyer said Thursday after visiting her in jail.
The 38-year-old Kolesnikova has become a member of the opposition in Belarus during the recent weeks of protests triggered by the re-election of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in an August vote seen widely — both within and outside the country — as rigged.
Lawyer Lyudmila Kazak said on Thursday that they were planning to file a complaint with the Investigative Committee. Kazak described Kolesnikova’s abduction by the security forces, claiming they threatened to kill the politician or put her in jail for up to 25 years.
“In particular, if I didn’t leave voluntarily, they said I would still be taken out of Belarus – alive or in pieces,” Kolesnikova was quoted as saying in the statement provided by Kazak, who added that her client had perceived the threats as genuine.
Kolesnikova identified the individuals who held and threatened her as employees of the Belarusian KGB intelligence unit and the Interior Ministry’s anticorruption and organized crime unit. Her supporters have said she avoided being expelled from Belarus by tearing up her passport during the ordeal.
Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, refuses to step down. Often called “Europe’s last dictator,” he has blamed the huge protests against his rule on foreign meddling — specifically on the U.S. — and his security forces have cracked down violently on the demonstrators.
Most of the leading opposition figures in Belarus have been jailed, fled, or were forced out of the country in the months before and after the disputed election.
Kolesnikova is a key member of the opposition’s Coordination Council, set up following the vote to enable a peaceful transfer of power after Lukashenko’s main challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, rejected his claim to have won with 80% of the vote.
Tikhanovskaya left the country under pressure from the authorities and was granted refuge in Lithuania.
Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich, another member of the Coordination Council’s leadership, is still free in Minsk. European diplomats were photographed entering her home for the second day in a row on Thursday – presumably to lend protection by their presence – after she said earlier this week that masked men had tried to break into her apartment.