Tokyo / Vienna (dpa) – Olympic athlete Kristina Timanowskaja fled to the EU in fear of the authoritarian authorities in her home country of Belarus.
She was protected by security forces on the flight from Tokyo to Warsaw during a stopover in Vienna on Wednesday and accompanied by officials from the Austrian Foreign Ministry. The 24-year-old athlete was cared for in the VIP terminal of the remote airport. A heavily armed policeman had lined up in front of the only entrance. Timanowskaya wants to fly to Warsaw that evening.
A good year after the presidential elections, the largely unknown sprinter until a few days ago once again drew attention to the situation in Belarus. For months, the ruler Alexander Lukashenko has been cracking down on dissenters, the independent media and non-governmental organizations.
The vote of August 9 last year is widely regarded as fake. The EU no longer recognizes the 66-year-old as president. A trial of prominent opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova began in Minsk on Wednesday.
Lukashenko has so far been silent about the case of Olympic sprinter Timanovskaya. According to her story, she was allegedly forced by Belarusian authorities to return to Minsk early for the Olympics because she criticized sports officials. Before her return flight, however, she turned to the Japanese police at Tokyo airport and got to safety.
The Olympic scandal has consequences for Minsk. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has set up a disciplinary committee to investigate the matter. The body should now focus on the Belarus athletics head coach and the deputy director of the national training center. The two officials are said to have told Timanovskaya she had to return to her homeland early because of her criticism of the top team’s decisions on social media.
Timanovskaya had said that the “picture” was not about politics. “I only criticized the fact that our head coaches chose the relay team without consulting the athletes,” she said. “I never thought it could reach such proportions and become a political scandal.”
Tired and nervous
Austrian State Secretary Magnus Brunner said after her arrival in Vienna that the athlete was doing well after the efforts of the past few days, but that she was tired and nervous. She is concerned about her family. “The most important thing is that she’s safe.”
Timanovskaya had previously canceled her original direct flight to Warsaw at the last minute. According to a top Viennese official, this also happened for security reasons. “The flight path has changed,” Brunner said. Poland has also issued a humanitarian visa to Timanowskaya’s husband, Arseni Sdanewitsch. He initially fled from Belarus to Ukraine.
Recently, the authoritarian apparatus of power in Belarus has sparked massive criticism when a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Athens to Vilnius had a stopover in Minsk two and a half months ago. The blogger and opposition activist Roman Protassewitsch, who was on the plane, and his girlfriend were subsequently arrested there. The West subsequently imposed new sanctions on the largely isolated ex-Soviet republic.
Trial of Maria Kolesnikova
After the elections a year ago, there were massive protests against Lukashenko, some of which he had brutally suppressed. Today there are more than 500 political prisoners. One of them is opposition activist Maria Kolesnikowa, who was arrested more than 11 months ago. A trial against her started on Wednesday in a court in Minsk.
The Russian news portal Sputnik published a video of Kolesnikova dancing in a black suit and forming her hands into a heart – her trademark. The 39-year-old, who had worked as a cultural manager in Stuttgart for a long time, faces up to 12 years in prison. The authorities accuse her of a conspiracy with the aim of illegally taking power.
Green politician Claudia Roth told the German news agency that the trial was carried out behind closed doors, scandalous and unacceptable. “It suggests it won’t be fair.” Svetlana Tikhanowskaja, a civil rights activist who fled to other EU countries, said: “The regime is afraid of Maria Kolesnikova.” The Union in the Bundestag demanded the release of all political prisoners in Belarus.
Belarusian opposition politician and former culture minister Pawel Latuschko, who lives in Poland, called for international action against Lukashenko. “There is only one way out – the declaration of the Lukashenko regime as an international terrorist organization,” he told the editorial network Germany (RND). “International politics must take this measure, and important countries like Germany must take the lead.” A Belarusian activist was found dead in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Tuesday. The circumstances of his death are still unclear.
Meanwhile, other athletes from Belarus do not want to return to their homeland. Jana Maximowa wrote on Instagram that she and her husband, the athlete Andrei Kravchenko, wanted to live in Germany. In Belarus you could lose your freedom and your life. The coach of the handball team “Vityas” in Minsk, Konstantin Yakowlev, fled to neighboring Ukraine.