Belarus opposition politician told she would be deported 'alive or in bits'

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Maria KolesnikovaImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Kolesnikova is currently jailed in the capital

A detained Belarusian opposition leader has said she feared for her life when security officers threw a bag over her head during an attempt to deport her.

Through her lawyer, Maria Kolesnikova said she was forced into a van and told that if she did not leave willingly she would be removed "alive or in bits".

She is now seeking a criminal case against Belarusian security forces including the KGB, her lawyer said.

Mass unrest has gripped Belarus since last month's disputed polls.

Ms Kolesnikova is one of three women who joined forces to challenge President Alexander Lukashenko in August's election. She is the last of the three women to remain inside Belarus after she resisted attempts to forcibly deport her into Ukraine earlier this week.

The main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, says she won 60-70% of the election in places where votes were properly counted. She fled to Lithuania after she was detained in August.

What has Kolesnikova said?

In a statement filed by her lawyer, she said she had been forced into the van by masked men on Monday in the capital, Minsk.

"It was stated that if I did not voluntarily leave the Republic of Belarus, I would be taken out anyway, alive or in bits. There were also threats to imprison me for up to 25 years."

Ms Kolesnikova was driven to the Ukrainian border with two other people, but she prevented officials forcibly expelling her by tearing up her passport and throwing it out of a car window, those who travelled with her said.

Media caption,

Ivan Kravtsov says Ms Kolesnikova tore her passport into pieces and then climbed through the rear car window

Her lawyer said her client was in "good spirits".

What about other opposition figures?

The other two women who joined forces with Ms Kolesnikova to challenge Mr Lukashenko, Veronika Tsepkalo and presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, left the country soon after the election.

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has offered Ms Tikhanovskaya a house in the country's capital, Warsaw.

Media caption,

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda: Democratic values do not have a price

European diplomats were photographed at the home of Nobel Prize-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich in Minsk this week after she said masked men tried to break in.

She is the last leading member of the opposition Co-ordination Council still in Belarus who has not been detained.

On Wednesday, witnesses reportedly saw Maxim Znak, a lawyer and another member of the Co-ordination Council, being led down a street in the capital by masked men in plain clothes.

Belarusian authorities said both he and Ms Kolesnikova were being held on suspicion of harming national security and destabilising the country.

What's the latest from Lukashenko?

During the inauguration of a new chief prosecutor on Thursday, the president maintained his legitimacy as leader.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Women were detained during a march in support of Maria Kolesnikova and other opposition leaders

"People often reproach me: 'He won't give up power.' They're right to reproach me. The people didn't elect me for this," he said.

"Power is not given to be taken, thrown and given away."

The president, in power since 1994, said that Belarus could not return to the instability of the years following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Media caption,

What lies behind the Belarus protests?