Belarusian Olympic runner faces punishment at home

Belarusian Olympic runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said Tuesday she is now focusing on her safety and seeking refuge in Europe after facing threats from officials in her home country.

“They made it clear that upon my return I would definitely face some punishment,” he told the Associated Press in an interview via videocall. “There are also disguised hints that there is much more waiting for me.”

The 24-year-old has said he wants to continue his career as an athlete, with plans to compete in at least the next two Olympics.

“For now, I just want to arrive safely in Europe, meet the people who have helped me and make a decision about what to do next,” Tsimanouskaya said.

Polish authorities Monday granted him a humanitarian visa to seek political asylum after the runner accused team officials of trying to force him to fly back to Belarus against his will.

Tsimanouskaya told officials in Tokyo he feared he would not be safe in Belarus from the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

An activist group said it had bought Tsimanouskaya a plane ticket for a flight to Warsaw on Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted late Monday that Lukashenko’s government was seeking “another act of transnational repression” by forcing Tsimanouskaya to leave “solely because she exercised free speech.”

“Such action violates the Olympic spirit, is an affront to human rights, and cannot be tolerated,” Blinken wrote.

The political drama developed after Tsimanouskaya criticized the way officials handled Belarus’ Olympic athletes, sparking criticism in the country’s state media, where the government often cracks down on critics.

The National Olympic Committee of Belarus has been chaired for more than 25 years by Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.

On her Instagram account, Tsimanouskaya said she was included in the country’s 4×400 meter relay team even though she had never competed for the event.

Belarusian officials then took Tsimanouskaya to the Tokyo airport, but she refused to board the plane to Istanbul and instead approached the police for help.

“I was pressured, and they were trying to force me to leave the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old runner said in a video message posted on social media. [uh/ab]

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