Independent human rights experts from the United Nations on Friday urged the Belarusian government to free leading opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova, saying she faces a five-year prison term after being charged with undermining national security.
The musician and political activist was jailed recently amid ongoing mass protests against the country's authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected August 9 in a vote that opponents allege was rigged. The rights experts said Kolesnikova was "snatched off the streets" of Minsk, the capital, September 7, threatened with death or deportation and secretly imprisoned.
The statement noted that after three days with no information on her whereabouts, authorities announced that Kolesnikova was in pre-trial detention. It added that on the 16th, she was officially charged.
"It is particularly troubling that the authorities have resorted to enforced disappearances in an effort to quash protests, stifle dissent and sow fear," the U.N. experts said, adding, "We urge the authorities not to use national security concerns to deny individuals their fundamental rights, among others the rights to opinion, expression, or peaceful assembly and association."
The rights experts also said in their statement they wanted authorities to bring to justice those responsible for her disappearance. They noted she had campaigned for opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled with her children to Lithuania for safety.
Kolesnikova was a key member of a council set up by the opposition to push for new elections. Separately, another activist, Olga Kovalkova, said that authorities forced her out of the country and that she was dropped off at the Polish border.
Lukashenko said he won the August 9 election in a landslide. He claimed the beginning of his sixth term Wednesday, following an inauguration ceremony held in secret. The president, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, said the protesters were being backed by foreign powers.