SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 23 June 2021, Wednesday |

Belarusian protester fights extradition from Russia

After being jailed at a rally in August and beaten while in detention, Andrei Kazimirov fled Belarus for Russia in September to avoid a crackdown on anti-government protests, according to his lawyer.

Russia intends to extradite the 21-year-old to Belarus, where he will face criminal charges for his role in “mass disturbances.” Despite his lawyer’s claims that he could be abused and that he had requested refuge, the Moscow City Court accepted his handover last Thursday.

Other Belarusians arrested in Russia on identical allegations are closely following the case, which implies that Moscow is not a safe haven, according to the Civic Assistance Committee.

The two countries are formally united in “a union state”. The pace of integration has been slow but they do cooperate in extraditions. Russia says it does not interfere in Belarus’s domestic affairs and that alleged crimes committed in Belarus by Belarusians are a matter for the authorities there.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s oldest rights organization, is petitioning for a moratorium on extraditions from Russia to Belarus. It cites what it says is a threat to “the rights, health and even life” of activists returned to Belarus, saying they could face torture.

It named six Belarusians, including Kazimirov, who are currently facing extradition. A further two activists were detained and handed over to the Belarusian authorities in April, it said.

“I’m so worried … it scares me that he could come here,” Yulia Kazimirova, Andrei’s mother, told Reuters from Belarus.

Reuters could not establish how many Belarusian protesters are hiding in Russia. The Russian general prosecutor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Backed by the Kremlin, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko last summer weathered the biggest protests of his rule that were triggered by allegations that his 2020 re-election win was rigged, something he denied.

The political crisis has been thrust back into the spotlight after the dramatic grounding of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on May 23 and the arrest of a dissident blogger and his girlfriend.

That sparked uproar in the West and talk of new sanctions, which Russia has said it will help Belarus weather.

Last weekend, Russian state media gave unusual prominence to footage of President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko holding an almost celebratory meeting on a yacht and embracing warmly.

Putin, like Lukashenko, has faced nationwide opposition protests and incurred Western sanctions over the jailing of an outspoken political opponent, Alexei Navalny.

‘MY ONLY HOPE’

Kazimirov has a final Russian court appeal. Illarion Vasilyev, his lawyer, said he plans to ask the European Court of Human Rights to intervene and stop the extradition.

“My only hope is on the ECHR – that they won’t let an unfair decision happen,” said Kazimirov’s mother.

Kazimirov only found out he had been charged with a crime in Belarus when he was arrested in Russia in January, Vasilyev said. He applied for asylum in March, but was rejected, a decision he is appealing.

He is accused of helping to try to erect a barricade during a protest and of throwing stones. He says he was at the protest and used the base of a bin to take cover, but denies throwing anything, his lawyer said.

He was injured by a rubber bullet at the protest, said Vasilyev, who was brought in by the Civic Assistance Committee to help Kazimirov.

Kazimirov was allegedly held on his knees for several hours in prison and assaulted with truncheons, according to him. His wound from the rubber bullet became infected, but he received no medical care. He was released after signing a paperwork stating that he had no complaints, according to Vasilyev.

Reuters was not given access to that document and was unable to independently verify his claims.

The local police station refused to comment on the charges, referring them to regional authorities. The press office of the regional police did not respond to numerous phone calls. A written request for response to the Interior Ministry’s spokesman was not immediately returned.