Poland Grants Visa to Runner Afraid to Return to Belarus

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(Newser)

Poland granted a visa Monday to a Belarusian Olympic sprinter who said she feared for her safety and that her team’s officials tried to force her to fly home, where the autocratic government was accused of diverting a flight to arrest a dissident journalist. An activist group that is helping athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya told the AP that it bought her a plane ticket to Warsaw for the coming days. The current standoff apparently began after Tsimanouskaya criticized how officials were managing her team—setting off a massive backlash in state-run media back home, where authorities relentlessly crack down on government critics. The runner said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4×400 relay even though she has never raced in the event.

Tsimanouskaya was then apparently hustled to the airport but refused to board a flight for Istanbul and instead approached police for help. In a filmed message distributed on social media, she also asked the International Olympic Committee for assistance. “I was put under pressure, and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old said. Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, a Polish deputy foreign minister, said the runner asked for a humanitarian visa for now and can still seek refugee status once in Poland. She has also been offered asylum in the Czech Republic. Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseni Zdanevich, meanwhile, confirmed to the Russian Sport Express newspaper that he has left Belarus for Ukraine.

(Read more 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games stories.)

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