Fears are growing that a leading opposition activist and several other members of an opposition council in Belarus have been detained after going missing amid ongoing government crackdowns on protests following the re-election of the country’s authoritarian leader.
Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the Coordination Council created by the opposition to facilitate talks with President Alexander Lukashenko on a transition of power, was reportedly put on a minibus in the capital Minsk, and driven away by unidentified people on Monday.
Her disappearance follows a massive rally on Sunday that drew an estimated 100,000 protesters pushing for the resignation of Mr Lukashenko, who extended his 26-year rule in the August 9 election that the opposition sees as rigged.
Ms Kolesnikova’s colleagues fear she has been detained along with two other members of the council who friends and co-workers have not been able to get in touch with.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted that Ms Kolesnikova’s disappearance is part of the Belarusian authorities’ effort to “cynically eliminate one by one” and called for her immediate release.
The Belarusian Interior Ministry said it has not detained Ms Kolesnikova, while other law enforcement agencies have yet to release a statement.
After a brutal crackdown in the first few days after the vote that caused international outrage and swelled the ranks of protesters, the authorities have switched to threats and selective arrests of opposition activists and demonstrators.
Sunday’s demonstrations in Minsk and other cities went on despite the authorities’ warning that participants could face reprisals.
The Interior Ministry said 633 people were detained on Sunday for taking part in unsanctioned protests.