Belarus Opposition Leader Urges International Probe of Govt

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya delivers a spech in the Senate of the Czech Republic in Prague, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Photo: Vondrous Roman / CTK Pool Photo via AP

PRAGUE (AP) — A Belarusian opposition leader called Wednesday for the creation of an international tribunal to investigate and prosecute crimes reportedly committed by her country’s government and its longtime authoritarian leader, President Alexander Lukashenko.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in Belarus’ disputed presidential election last year, spoke to the Czech Republic’s Senate in Prague. She asked the Czech Republic to organize an international conference to deal with the current situation in her country.

“We cannot allow dictators to write history,” Tsikhanouskaya said.

Lukashenko has faced months of protests fueled by his reelection to a sixth term in the August election, which was widely seen as rigged. Belarusian authorities have responded to demonstrations with a fierce crackdown. Police have arrested more than 35,000 people, and thousands of protesters were beaten by officers.

Tsikhanouskaya called the crackdown “a terror that our country has not experienced since the time of Stalinism.”

“The only solution to the crisis in Belarus can be free elections,” she said.

In audio testimony to the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee later Wednesday, Tsikhanouskaya said that although there were defections by law enforcement officers amid the protests in Belarus, the opposition thinks discontented officials will be useful by staying in their jobs.

“We changed the strategy a little bit, and we ask the people in the regime to stay in their places but to give us inside information,” she said.

In the Czech Parliament, Tsikhanouskaya also called on European countries to impose more sanctions on the Belarusian government, to halt trade in Berarusian oil products and fertilizers, and to not cooperate with the country’s state institutions and banks.

International condemnation and isolation of Belarus has deepened since Belarusian flight controllers on May 23 told the crew of a Ryanair airliner of an alleged bomb threat. They instructed the pilots to land in the capital, Minsk, where journalist Raman Pratasevich was pulled off the plane by authorities and arrested.

“The terrorist nature of Lukashenko’s dictatorship now becomes evident to the whole world,” said Tsikhanouskaya, who received a standing ovation in the Czech Senate.

Tsikhanouskaya was in Prague at the invitation of Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil. She also met with Czech President Milos Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babis.