Belarus Olympian seeking asylum in Poland after refusing 'forced' flight home

Foreign Media (DM) | Published: 4:24 PM Aug 2 2021
World Belarus Olympian seeking asylum in Poland after refusing 'forced' flight home

A sprinter from Belarus who refused her team's order to fly home early from the Olympics is seeking asylum in Poland, activists say.

Krystina Timanovskaya spent the night secured in a hotel under protection from Japanese police, after saying she was forcibly taken to the airport for criticising coaches.

She voiced fears for her safety if she were to be returned to her country.

Belarus says she was removed from the team because of her emotional state.

Timanovskaya, 24, was pictured entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday after arriving in an unmarked silver van. An opposition group that helps athletes in Belarus told the BBC that Timanovskaya was seeking asylum in Poland.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation was created last year to support athletes during the nationwide protests over the disputed re-election of long-time President Alexander Lukashenko.

The country's security forces have carried out a brutal crack down on dissent. Some of those who joined the demonstrations were also national-level athletes, who were stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained.

Marcin Przydacz, an official at the Polish foreign ministry, said earlier that Timanovskaya had been "offered a humanitarian visa".

Reports suggest Timanovskaya's husband has left Belarus for Ukraine.

The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women's 200m event on Monday, had complained on social media about being entered into the 4x400m relay race at short notice after some teammates were found to be ineligible to compete.

The video led to criticism in state media, with one television channel saying she lacked "team spirit".

Timanovskaya said officials had come to her room and given her an hour to pack her bags before being escorted to Tokyo's Haneda airport. She says she was "put under pressure" by team officials to return home and asked the IOC for help.

"They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission," she said in a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation.

Anatol Kotau, a member of the group, told the BBC on Sunday "She's afraid of repression on her family in Belarus - this is the main concern for her right now."

The Belarusian Olympic committee said Timanovskaya had been taken off the team because of her "emotional and psychological condition".

On Monday, International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams said the body had taken measures against the Belarusian committee in the run-up to the Games.

It banned some officials, including the president's son, for failing to protect athletes who had joined the demonstrations.

Heather McGill, Amnesty International's Eastern Europe and Central Asia researcher, said the country's sporting administration had been subject to "direct government control" under President Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

"Athletes are favoured by the state and honoured by society, and it is not surprising that athletes who speak out find themselves a target for reprisals," she said.

Foreign Media (DM) | Published: 4:24 PM Aug 2 2021

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