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Belarusian authorities detain over 20 in new wave of arrests

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By Euronews with AP
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures while speaking during an annual press conference in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko gestures while speaking during an annual press conference in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.   -   Copyright  Andrei Stasevich /BelTA photo via AP
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Belarusian authorities have detained over 20 people in the latest wave of arrests, continuing their sweeping crackdown on dissent a year after a disputed presidential election, human rights activists said Thursday.

Andrey Dmitriev, a challenger to President Alexander Lukashenko in the Aug 9, 2020 election, was among those temporarily detained for interrogation. It is unclear if he faces any charges

Ihar Lyashchenya, the former Belarusian ambassador to Slovenia, was arrested on charges of “organising mass disturbances,” accusations that carry a prison sentence of up to eight years. When the post-election protests erupted, Lyashchenya publicly criticised the crackdown on demonstrators and was stripped of his rank by Lukashenko.

The Viasna Human Rights Centre listed 24 arrests on Wednesday and Thursday which include lawyers, political and environmental activists who were part of the Skhod (Assembly) civic initiative intended to encourage a national dialogue.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reacted to Dmitriev's arrest on Twitter, writing that "Lukashenka methodically terrorises everybody who dares to stand up against him, especially politicians and activists."

"We must stop these repressions," she added.

Mass protests rocked Belarus for months after the Aug 9, 2020 presidential election which credited Lukashenko, then in power for 24 years, with more than 80% of the vote. But the ballot was deemed fraudulent by the opposition and Western countries including the EU, UK and US.

Lukashenko responded with a violent clampdown. Some 35,000 were arrested throughout the country, with some detailing instances of torture.

Stsiapan Latypau, an activist who stabbed himself in the neck with a pen in the courtroom in June to protest political repressions, described in a statement of the court on Thursday his arrest by "masked men" in mid-September 2020 and beatings he endured.

"I was crying, struggling to breathe in the plastic bag and they just laughed (...) The masked men beat me with their hands, their feet and using truncheons, they beat me simultaneously and then one by one. They beat me with their fists and palms over my ears, and it felt like a hand grenade exploding inside my head," his statement, published on the Viasna website, said.

According to the group, there are currently 631 political prisoners in the country.