Lithuania would rather "watch hell freeze" over than acquiesce to Belarus's request to extradite former presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Baltic country said on Friday.
The firm rebuke from the Lithuanian foreign ministry came just hours after the Belarusian prosecutor general "sent a request to the General Prosecutor's Office of the Republic of Lithuania to extradite Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya for criminal prosecution for crimes against the order of government, public safety and the state," the Belarusian prosecutor general's office said in a statement.
Tsikhanouskaya was a presidential candidate in the disputed Belarus elections in August 2020 and dealt a formidable challenge to President Alexander Lukashenko.
Shortly after the elections, Tsikhanouskaya fled to neighbouring Lithuania and has been in exile since. Mass protests against the Lukashenko regime were meanwhile held across Belarus for months.
Tsikhanouskaya has condemned the authorities' use of force and detentions against demonstrators.
Western countries have denounced authorities' repression of the protest movement, issuing sanctions against top political leaders in the country.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis took to Twitter to lambast Belarus for its request, writing: "We would rather watch hell freeze over than consider its demands."
"Everyone who finds refuge in Lithuania can feel safe that they will not be extradited to regimes," it added.
Tskikhanouskaya said in reaction that she is "grateful to Lithuania and GabrieliusLandsbergis for not only standing up against Lukashenko's regime but also sending a clear message that Lithuania strongly supports Belarusians."
Earlier in the day, former Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevičius also scoffed at the extradition request in a tweet, writing that "the time is approaching when [Belarusian authorities] will have to be extradited to international court, for brutality, atrocities and crimes against Belarus and its citizens."
Tsikhanouskaya received the EU's Sakharov Prize, awarded for the defence of human rights and freedom of thought, last year.
"I want every Belarusian who is now in jail, or was forced to live in exile, to return home," she told the EU Parliament in December of last year.
“Every country has its own path to democracy, and this is ours".