Poland and Japan have helped the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya evade attempts by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government to humiliate and discredit her, the United States ambassador to Belarus said on Monday.
Tsimanouskaya walked into the Polish embassy a day after she said she was taken to a Tokyo airport against her wishes to board a flight back home.
“Thanks to the quick action of Japanese and Polish authorities, Tsimanouskaya is able to evade the attempts of the Lukashenko regime to discredit and humiliate this #Tokyo2020 athlete for expressing her views,” Julie Fisher said in a tweet.
Athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya received a humanitarian visa from the Polish embassy in Tokyo, according to a Polish Foreign Ministry official. The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation told The Associated Press that the group has bought her a plane ticket to Warsaw for Aug. 4.
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. Tsimanouskaya said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4x400 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 runner said in the message.
The rapid-fire series of events brought international political intrigue to Olympic Games that have been more focused on operational dramas, like maintaining safety during a pandemic and navigating widespread Japanese opposition to holding the event at all.
Belarus’ authoritarian government has relentlessly targeted anyone even mildly expressing dissent since a presidential election a year ago triggered a wave of unprecedented mass protests. And it has also gone to extremes to stop its critics, including the recent plane diversion that European officials called an act of air piracy.
In this context, Tsimanouskaya feared for her safety once she saw the campaign against her in state media, according to the sports foundation, which she also contacted for help.
“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told the AP in an interview.