KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Belarusian authorities arrested a lawyer representing a prominent opposition activist who was jailed this month during mass protests against the country’s authoritarian president, who won a sixth term in a contested election.
The lawyer, Lyudmila Kazak, went missing on Thursday, with police confirming later in the day that she had been detained. According to Kazakh lawyers, he faces administrative charges of participating in an unauthorized demonstration and resisting a police officer.
Kazak was defending Maria Kolesnikova, a key member of a Belarusian political opposition council set up to push for new presidential elections. Kolesnikova is accused of undermining state security which could lead to a five-year prison sentence if convicted.
Kazak relayed several messages that Kolsenikova sent from prison, encouraging the protesters to continue the anti-government demonstrations that rocked Belarus for nearly seven weeks.
“Freedom is worth fighting for. Don’t be afraid to be free, “said one of these messages.” I don’t regret anything and I’d do the same again. “
Kolsenikova said Belarusian security forces took her to the border with Ukraine to try to get her to leave the country, but that she tore her passport. She claimed that the agents threatened to kill her.
The detention of his lawyer followed the arrest of Yegor Martinovich, chief editor of the popular independent newspaper Nasha Niva. Martinovich is accused of slandering a government official and faces up to three years in prison.
Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have protested every day since the presidential elections on 9 August. The official results extended President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year term, giving him 80% of the vote. Lukashenko’s strongest opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, got 10% support.
Both opposition members and some poll workers say the vote was rigged, and the United States and the European Union condemned the elections as neither free nor fair. Many European countries have refused to recognize Lukashenko as a legitimate leader after his unexpected inauguration earlier this week.
Anti-Lukashenko protests have rocked the country every day since the elections, with the largest demonstrations in Minsk attracting up to 200,000 people. In the first days of the protest, the police used tear gas, batons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Several protesters died, many were injured and nearly 7,000 were arrested.
Response to street protesters intensified again this week, with police arresting hundreds and many injured. Despite the repression, protests continued in Minsk on Friday, with groups of people in different parts of the capital forming human chains of solidarity and singing songs.
Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.