Belarus athlete: Why doesn’t Olympian want to go back to Belarus? Is Belarus safe?

Belarus: Expert on whether Putin is 'backing' Lukashenko

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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, spent Sunday night in a hotel at Tokyo’s Haneda airport after she said she was forcibly taken to the airport on Sunday and forced out of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. She said she was being pressured to leave for criticising coaches, but the Belarusian Olympic committee said Ms Tsimanouskaya had been taken off the team because of her “emotional and psychological condition”.

The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women’s 200m event on Monday, had earlier complained on social media about being entered into another race at short notice after some teammates were found to be ineligible to compete.

The video led to criticism in state media in Belarus, with one news channel saying she lacked “team spirit”.

Ms Tsimanouskaya said officials had come to her room and given her an hour to pack her bags before being escorted to the airport.

She said she was “put under pressure” by team officials to return home and asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help.

She said: “They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission.”

Ms Tsimanouskaya sought police protection at Haneda’s terminal so she would not have to board the flight, voicing fears for her safety if she were to be returned to Belarus.

The flight took off without her on board.

OC spokesman Mark Adams said Ms Tsimanouskaya was being looked after by the Japanese authorities and a number of agencies were in contact with her, including the UN refugee agency.

Anatol Kotau, a member of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, told the BBC on Sunday: “She’s afraid of repression on her family in Belarus – this is the main concern for her right now.”

But why is the athlete so reluctant to return home to Belarus?

Is Belarus safe?

In 2020, widespread protests against Belarussian president, Alexander Lukashenko, gripped the world.

The scale of the protests was unprecedented for Belarus, with activists claiming the election was rigged in favour of long-time ruler Lukashenko.

Often described as Europe’s “last dictator”, he has tried to preserve elements of Soviet communism since taking office in 1994 amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Much of manufacturing has remained under state control, and main media channels have been loyal to the government.

The powerful secret police are even still called the KGB.

Hundreds of people were detained in the protests, with reports of police brutality rampant.

Some of those who took part were also national-level athletes, who were stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained for demonstrating.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation was created during the protests to support the athletes.

The IOC banned some Belarussian officials in the run-up to these Olympics, including Lukashenko’s son, for failing to protect the athletes who had joined the demonstrations.

These factors are compounded by recent crackdowns on critics of the regime.

Last month, a former challenger for the Belarusian presidency, Viktor Babaryko, was been sentenced to 14 years in jail.

The former banker was found guilty of taking bribes and money laundering – charges he says were fabricated to prevent him challenging Alexander Lukashenko in last year’s election.

He was among the top opponents of Mr Lukashenko who have been either jailed or forced into exile.

And in June, an opposition Belarusian journalist and his girlfriend were detained after a dramatic intervention saw the plane they were travelling on was forced to land.

They were taken into custody on suspicion of inciting unrest, and are still believed to be under house arrest.

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