Poland issues visas to Belarusian Olympians, she says she is worried about her safety

Poland issued a visa to a Belarusian Olympic sprinter on Monday. She said she was worried about her safety. Her team officials tried to force her to fly home. The authoritarian government was recently accused of diverting and arresting a dissident journalist.

A militant group helping athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya told the Associated Press that it bought her a ticket to Warsaw in the next few days.

The current stalemate apparently started after Zimanusskaya criticized how officials managed her team—a strong opposition in the domestic official media, and the authorities ruthlessly suppressed government critics. The runner stated on her Instagram account that although she has never participated in a race, she still participated in a 4×400 relay.

The runner was apparently rushed to Tokyo Airport, but refused to board the flight to Istanbul, and instead asked the police for help. In a piece of shooting information posted on social media, she also asked the International Olympic Committee for help.

“Forcibly” tried to get her on the plane

“I was under pressure and they tried to forcibly take me abroad without my consent,” the 24-year-old said in an email.

A series of rapid events brought international political conspiracy to the Olympics. The Olympics focused more on operating drama, such as maintaining security during the pandemic and leading Japan to broadly oppose the hosting of the event.

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United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “The important thing is that everyone who asks for protection and seeks refugee status gets this opportunity. The Japanese authorities have done everything they can to protect her, and I think this is the most important thing. Part of it. No. People should be forced to go home under threat or force.”

Since the presidential election a year ago sparked an unprecedented wave of large-scale protests, the authoritarian government in Belarus has been ruthlessly targeting anyone, even those who dissent slightly. It has also taken extreme measures to deter critics, including the recent diversion of aircraft that European officials have called it an aerial piracy.

Christina Zimanusskaya of Belarus was talking to the police at Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport on Sunday. She claimed that her Olympic team tried to expel her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff at the airport. (Kato Issei/Reuters)

According to the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, the militant organization that is helping her, in this case, Zimanusskaya worried about her safety after seeing the official media campaign against her.

The foundation’s spokesperson Alexander Opeikin said in an interview with the Associated Press: “The campaign is very serious. This is a clear signal that her life in Belarus will be in danger.”

“Cheap stunts,” national television said

The official media continued to severely criticize Zimanusskaya. The host of the national television channel Belarus 1 described her decision to seek asylum as a “cheap gimmick” and “disgusting behavior”, and described her performance in the Olympics as a “failure.”

Zimanusskaya represented Belarus in the first day of track and field competition at the Tokyo National Stadium on Friday. She ranked fourth in the first round of the 100m preliminaries, timed 11.47 seconds, and did not qualify.

She was scheduled to participate in the 200-meter preliminaries of the Olympic Games again on Monday, but she said that her team barred her from participating in the lawsuit filed with the Sports Arbitration Court. She asked the court to overturn the decision, but the agency refused to intervene.

Humanitarian visa

Zimanusskaya’s next move is unclear. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, said that the runner is currently applying for a humanitarian visa. Once in Poland, he can still seek refugee status. Vadim Krivosheyev of the Radical Sports Foundation said she plans to seek asylum.

Another Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydac told the Onet.pl news portal that once in Poland, Zimanusskaya will be free to choose whether to stay there or go to “another safe country.”

At the same time, Zimanusskaya’s husband Arseny Zdanevich confirmed to Russian Sports Express that he had left Belarus for Ukraine. Other media reported that the couple’s children were with him, but the Associated Press clarified that the two had no children.

Athletes seeking asylum in global sporting events are nothing new-although Zimanusskaya’s situation is different from the typical situation. Asylum applications were particularly frequent during the Cold War, but they also happened occasionally in the decades that followed. According to reports at the time, as many as 117 athletes defected in the 1972 Munich Olympics. At least four Romanians and one Soviet associated with the Olympics defected at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Cuban athletes often do this.

Some groups and countries emphasize the seriousness of these allegations, and they say they are helping runners. Poland and the Czech Republic provided assistance, and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was cooperating with the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Olympics organizers.

The International Olympic Committee, which had been in dispute with the National Olympic Committee of Belarus before the Tokyo Olympics, said it had intervened.

On Friday, Zimanusskaya will participate in the women’s 100m race at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Peter David Joseph/Associated Press)

“The International Olympic Committee is investigating the situation and has asked the National Olympic Committee for clarification,” it said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the Belarusian Olympic team did not respond to a request for comment.

Poland is the destination of other critics

Many critics of the Belarusian government have fled to Poland. Pavel Latushka, the top dissident in Belarus, said that Zimanusskaya and her supporters had sought assistance from European governments. Poland is the fastest responder.

One of the country’s deputy foreign ministers, Marcin Przydacz, said on Twitter that in addition to issuing a humanitarian visa, Poland will help the runner continue her sports career. “Poland has always formed a delegation,” he said.

A few hours after she entered the Polish embassy, ??it is believed that Tsimanouskaya was still inside.

Watch | Belarusian athlete says she was forcibly taken to the airport:

Belarusian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said that because she criticized the national team coach, she was expelled from the national team against her wishes and was taken to Tokyo Airport. 2:48

The Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek also said on Twitter that the Czech Republic has offered her asylum.

The National Olympic Committee of Belarus was led by the dictator Alexander Lukashenko and his son Victor for more than 25 years.

Both Lukashenko were banned from participating in the Tokyo Olympics by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC investigated complaints that athletes faced retaliation and intimidation during the crackdown following a wave of anti-government protests last year.

“Lukashenko believes that all criticism is part of a conspiracy by Western countries,” said Valery Karbalevich, an independent political analyst in Belarus. “The protest by Zimanusskaya is seen as part of a wider campaign of hundreds of Belarusian athletes against the beatings of peaceful demonstrators and participating in street rallies for a year.”

A few months after the dramatic transfer of a passenger plane flying between two EU countries, the deadlock in Tsimanouskaya occurred. The Belarusian authorities ordered the plane to land in Minsk and pulled the reporter and activist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend off the plane.

The elder Lukashenko insisted that the plane was threatened by bombs, which is why a fighter plane made an emergency landing, but this move was severely criticized by Western leaders.

Pratasevich runs a channel on a messaging app used to organize demonstrations against Lukashenko’s rule, and he left his home country in 2019. He was accused of inciting large-scale riots and was placed under house arrest while awaiting trial.

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