Leading Belarusian opposition leader kidnapped in Minsk

In Belarus, a prominent opposition leader in the protests against President Lukashenko may have been kidnapped. The Belarusian news site Tut.by writes on the basis of an eyewitness account that Maria Kolesnikova was pushed into a van this morning in the centre of Minsk by a group of masked persons. Then the van drove away.

Kolesnikova’s allies have not been able to contact her since then. Three members of the Coordination Council set up by the opposition are also unreachable.

The kidnapping has not yet been officially confirmed. The police in Minsk says they are investigating through the Russian news agency Ria Novosti and emphasizes that Kolesnikova has not arrested.

Gagging

Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya says that the alleged kidnapping of Kolesnikova and possibly other members of the opposition looks like an attempt to silence the opposition. Linas Linkevicius, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, talks about a disgrace on Twitter. He thinks Kolesnikova should be released immediately

According to correspondent David-Jan Godfroid it is “certainly not impossible” that Kolesnikova has been kidnapped or arrested. “Recently, another member of the Coordinating Board was transferred to Poland. So it could well be. We’re sure we won’t do it alone,” he says.

Face of the opposition

Kolesnikova is one of the three women who, together with Tichanovskaya and Veronika Tsepkalo, have become the face of opposition to President Lukashenko in recent months.

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus hard since 1994. Until recently, the opposition played no significant role in the country because the main candidates were imprisoned.

This changed when the previously completely unknown Tichanovskaya, the wife of one of the arrested politicians, joined the presidential campaigns. Kolesnikova and Tsepkalo – also associated with arrested candidates – united the opposition behind Tichanovskaya, became enormously popular in a short period of time and got hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the country.

No fear

Nevertheless, according to the regime, Lukashenko won the elections by 80 percent. EU leaders, among others, decided not to recognise the election results and protests against Lukashenko continued. Yesterday tens of thousands of Belarusians took to the streets again. 633 protesters were arrested.

Shortly after the elections, Tichanovskaya fled to Lithuania. Tsepkalo is no longer in the country either. Kolesnikova did stay in Belarus.

In an interview with New Hour, shortly before the elections, Kolesnikova said not to feel fear. “I am responsible for myself,” she said.